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It hurts to die. That has just been reported in USA Today cadged from Healthfinder and American Pain Foundation. That fact has without doubt been known since upright humans first stubbed a toe, but the difference is that now there is “scientific proof.” An undisclosed large number of people were asked how much pain they were suffering on a four point scale and after 4,700 of them had died the American Pain Foundation made their report.

The people with an average age of 76 were asked every two years to rate their pain level on a four point scale: none reported, mild, moderate, severe. There was no mention of how the respondents were supposed to calibrate these judgments. Unbeknownst to them they desperately need the Probaway Pain Scale because it makes much more easily understood definitions based on clearly defined parameters.

Pain Scale Intensity Measurement – click for a larger .GIF chart.

Probaway Pain Scale - PAINS

Pain Scale - For measuring intensity of human pain - click to enlarge

Pain Scale Intensity Measurement Chart – click here for a printable .PDF.

The study found that 26 percent of the participants had said they were in pain two years before they died. Their pain levels remained steady until about four months before death, when pain began to increase. By the last month before death, the number of people reporting moderate or severe pain had jumped to 46 percent.

“That’s a substantial burden of pain,” Smith said.

But in people with arthritis, 60 percent reported troubling pain in the last month of life, compared with 26 percent of those without arthritis, according to the study.

Pain did not differ significantly among people with other conditions, such as cancer or heart disease, the study found.

Apparently the data is more thoroughly presented in the Nov. 2, 2010 Annals of Internal Medicine, which I don’t have access to for comparison to this published article. However, if their data is based on the simplistic and uncalibrated pain scale which was reported in this more popular media, I believe the study needs to be refined. With better measurement of pain a much more refined analysis would be possible, which would probably find specific pain trends with different diseases. For example: tuberculosis is slow but isn’t particularly painful but weakens a person to death where as pancreatic cancer is extremely painful but leaves the person reasonably strong up to near the end. With a better pain scale these kinds of comparisons could be made accurately and thus be more predictive for a given patient.

Seeing reality better gives you more options for coping better.