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Swiss raise awareness of chronic pain

Chronic pain can persist without any recognisable injury or illness (www.braile.net) swissinfo.ch

With about ten per cent of the population suffering from chronic pain, Switzerland has launched a campaign to raise awareness.

This content was published on August 31, 2002 - 10:49

The Association for Chronic Pain wants to bring the condition, which often has psychological causes, to public attention.

More than 700,000 Swiss are affected by chronic pain. For some the cause can be a recognised condition such as arthritis, cancer or merely an ear infection. Others experience chronic pain without any discernable cause such as injury or illness.

Critics say Switzerland has been slow to recognise the condition - according to Charles-Henri Rapin of the Geneva university hospital, only 40 per cent of pain patients get proper treatment in Swiss hospitals.

Loss of appetite

Those afflicted with chronic pain, which can last for years, often find it difficult to work, experience loss of appetite and any physical activity can be exhausting and aggravates the pain.

Felix Gysin, who has been suffering from pain in his hips and legs for the past 38 years, set up the "Swiss Association of Pain Sufferers" three years ago to share his experience and help other people who are affected.

"I realised that people suffering from chronic pain need help as this condition has only been recognised [in Switzerland] since the beginning of the 1990s. Until that time sufferers have often been accused of faking and many of them are therefore very depressed," Gysin told swissinfo.

"Our goal is to provide them with the best therapies as quickly as possible so we can alleviate their pains. Nearly all patients can be helped with methods that have been developed in the past ten years," he added.

Medical problems

The 54-year-old first started to have medical problems when doctors diagnosed him with a condition that stopped his hip from growing at the age of 13. However, despite the diagnosis it took Gysin a long time to actually recognise his condition.

"When I was first diagnosed with my problem I did not realise the pain was not normal as I grew up with it. When it got worse and I had to use a wheelchair I realised that I had to do something about it," he said.

"I finally found help from a specialist in chronic pain, a profession that has only existed in Switzerland for a couple of years. Together with the specialist I got over my pain but only once I had accepted my condition," he said.

Different pain

There are different levels of pain and Dr Christian Gubler, a surgeon at the Sonnenhof hospital in Bern, says it is very difficult to assess, as the degree of suffering is relative to each individual.

"If a patient tells me he or she has an awful lot of pain, what does this mean for me as a doctor? As I cannot quantify the pain in units such as kilos, I have to find out what it means for this individual patient," he told swissinfo.

Gubler also thinks that a person's upbringing is an important factor of how he or she experiences any kind of pain.

Psychological problem

"For me as a surgeon, chronic pain always means there is a psychological problem. But the way we experience pain also often depends on what our parents taught us," Gubler said.

Another phenomenon about psychological pain, he says, is 'phantom pain', whereby the patients can still feel a pain in a body-part, which they no longer have. "This sometimes happens with people who had their legs amputated," Gubler said.

According to the Swiss Association of Pain Sufferers most people affected can be relieved of their symptoms with simple painkillers, psychological counselling or alternative therapies such as acupuncture, mental training and physiotherapy.

by Billi Bierling

Key facts

About 700,000 people, or ten per cent of the population, suffer from chronic pain in Switzerland.
About 60 per cent of Swiss pain patients do not get proper treatment in hospitals.

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