Mexico's 40 Million Silent Sufferers from Chronic Pain

Chronic pain affects 27% of Mexico's population, but it's a global concern, with 1 in 5 worldwide suffering. It's an underestimated crisis, impacting lives, work, and relationships. Proper diagnosis and accessible treatment are essential for millions silently battling chronic pain.

Mexico's 40 Million Silent Sufferers from Chronic Pain
Pain clinics are on the rise in Mexico, but there's still a long way to go in addressing chronic pain. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

In a world plagued by crises, there's one menace that lurks quietly, inflicting its torment upon millions. It doesn't make headlines; it doesn't stir public outrage. It's the silent enemy—chronic pain. That's right, pain, the kind that nags at you, an unwelcome companion in your daily routine. It's not just the occasional stubbed toe or a pesky paper cut; it's a relentless adversary that affects 27 percent of Mexico's population. That's a whopping 40 million people.

Now, before you brush off this article thinking, “I can handle a little ache,” let me hit you with some sobering statistics. This isn't your run-of-the-mill headache we're talking about. We're delving deep into the realm of chronic pain, the kind that lasts longer than three months. It's a relentless beast that alters lives, messes with your work, and even your relationships. Chronic pain doesn't knock gently; it kicks down your door and makes itself at home.

The first thing you need to know is that chronic pain is an equal-opportunity troublemaker. It doesn't discriminate, but according to a study by the National Institute of Public Health, women bear the brunt of it. The older you get, the more likely it is to show up uninvited. It's like that annoying relative who insists on crashing every family gathering.

Let's put this from a global perspective. The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) tells us that one in five people worldwide grapple with chronic pain. In the United States, that translates to a whopping 50 million folks. Just think about it—50 million people whose daily lives are tainted by pain. Of these, 19.6 million can't carry on with their usual activities, be it work, play, or just lazing on the couch. Chronic pain, it seems, is the ultimate party crasher.

Living with chronic pain is like an unpredictable rollercoaster ride through a funhouse of misery. One day, you're fine; the next, even the slightest activity triggers excruciating pain. So, what's the logical solution? Many opt for the “better safe than sorry” route, choosing to remain as still as possible, but this only leads to isolation and despair. Chronic pain is the leading cause of work absenteeism and disability, and that's no joke.

What makes matters worse is the bungled diagnoses and treatments that many sufferers endure. Imagine going to a pain clinic, only to be handed treatments that aren't remotely relevant to the cause of your pain. It's like going to a bakery and being offered a car repair manual—it's just not the right tool for the job.

And the medication game is equally bewildering. You can't hand out the same painkillers to everyone; each person's pain is a unique puzzle. There's an etiological classification of chronic pain: nociceptive, neuropathic, and nondisciplastic. No need to break a sweat trying to pronounce those. Nociceptive is pain caused by tissue damage; neuropathic is a result of messed-up nerves, and nondisciplastic is the sneaky one—pain without clear evidence of tissue damage.

Low back pain is like the “greatest hits” album of chronic pain. It's so common that 60 percent of pain clinic visits are due to lumbar syndromes. These aches can last anywhere from three months to a whopping ten years, a pain endurance marathon.

So, what's the solution?

Efforts have been made in Mexico to tackle this issue. Between 2017 and 2021, the number of services in pain clinics increased from 42 to 117, and palliative care centers grew from 57 to 218. But guess what? It's still not enough. There's a backlog of 79 percent, meaning there's plenty of room for improvement. In 2021, only 11.5 percent of hospitals had pain clinics, and just 21.5 percent offered palliative care.

Oh, and don't even get me started on access to effective medications. In 2015, a measly 0.5 percent of Mexican doctors had prescriptions for opioids. That leaves a massive gap, leading to 229,000 people dying in agony every year and 224,000 attempting to soldier on without palliative care.

Let's put a face to these statistics. Meet Ángela Amador, a student at UNAM who's been wrestling with disabling dysmenorrhea since she was 13. Every month, her period brings excruciating pain, affecting not only her abdomen but her entire body. She can't even sit down comfortably. Her solution? A cocktail of painkillers, and she's downing five pills on her worst days.

But what's even more painful for Ángela is trying to explain her agony to those around her. It's a struggle that many chronic pain sufferers can relate to. It's hard to express what you feel when you look “fine” on the outside.

Chronic pain, my friends, is a quiet crisis, and it's high time we turn up the volume on it. It's not just a nuisance; it's a life-altering force that deserves our attention. So next time you encounter someone battling chronic pain, give them a little extra empathy. It's a battle they face every single day, and it's about time we acknowledged their silent struggle.