Why are doctors so quick to brush off chronic pain?


The mother of the best friend of my daughter has had severe jaw problems since forever. She takes very strong pain killers to fight the constant pain, and has underwent a number of jaw-correcting surgeries.

Since my girlfriend is a doctor, Elsa has confided to my girlfriend (and me) many of the other chronic conditions she is suffering from.

They all sound very severe, and most probably they really are.

In case of the (symmetric) jaw problem, she appeared to ground her teeth so bad that it ruined her jaw bones, so that they had to be partly replaced. Or so she said.

After a while, a very defining detail surfaced: in any of the many conditions Elsa is suffering from, she has a detailed prefabricated biased Google-type diagnosis of what she “has,” and if a doctor has a different diagnosis, she seeks for other medical opinions.

Until she finds medical confirmation. This is a typical chronic pain/fatigue feature.

Doctor-hopping and diagnosis-shopping definitely rings an alarm bell.

So one day, Elsa asked my girlfriend if she knew a good pain doctor to help her in her daily battle against chronic pains. My girlfriend gave her a name, and off she went.

After a number of medical interviews and examinations, the new pain doctor could not help her. And Elsa separated ways, in search of the next doctor.

The pain doctor told us an entire different story than Elsa’s version:

  • yes, her jaws were partly replaced;
  • yes, she ground her teeth, but in the end not to the extent that the jaws had to be replaced — actually, Elsa insisted on the surgeries until she found a doctor to do it;
  • in every of the many chronic pain conditions she suffered from, Elsa had a pre-occupied idea about what it had to be;
  • Elsa had a worrying emotional family history.

We knew about that last item.

Elsa’s mother had committed suicide when Elsa was just a teenager, and the chronic problems started right after that horrible incident.

Since then, the emotional pain had concentrated in different ways.

And that’s actually what many properly undiagnosed chronic pain/fatigue patients have in common: a strong psychiatric parameter.

But unfortunately, that’s the only factor they do not want to accept as a cause.

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