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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Pain problems 'worse after terror'
People were traumatised after the terrorist attacks on America
People were traumatised after the terrorist attacks on America
Tens of thousands of Americans suffering from physical pain say their symptoms have got worse since the attacks on the New York and Washington on 11 September.

A survey by the Washington Post newspaper found specialists at hospitals across the US say they are being inundated with patients whose pain has got worse.

Conditions include cancer back problems, arthritis, diabetic complications and chronic headaches.

Pain management specialists at Washington Hospital Center reported flare-ups have been five times greater than usual.

It's pretty much accepted in pain management circles that situations people are in affect how they feel physically

Dr Lance McCracken, Bath Pain Management Unit
In Houston, pain complaints from cancer patients were up by a third.

US doctors told the paper the patients' chronic physical pain was linked to the stress they felt after the attacks, and fears for the future.

A UK expert told BBC News Online there was a definite relationship between how people felt after such events and their pain sensations.

Pain 'out of control'

Dr Lance McCracken, a consultant clinical psychologist of the Bath Pain Management Unit, told BBC News Online: "It's pretty much accepted in pain management circles that situations people are in affect how they feel physically, and the functioning of their body.

"Things that can be emotionally threatening can have a variety of effects."

He said if people were anxious, sleep could be disturbed, habits can change, and how people take care of themselves can alter, which can all potentially affect how they view their pain.

Dr McCracken said events like the World Trade Center attacks can also make people view things more negatively.

"They can affect how people look at their body and how they perceive whatever it is they are feeling."

Lee Ann Rhodes, medical director of pain management at Washington Hospital Center, said of the patients she was seeing: "A lot have been stable for years on their medication, but after [the attacks], we are getting flooded with phone calls saying that their pain has gotten out of control.

She told the Washington Post: "Patients who normally are happy that their pain is under control are coming in in tears."

Doctors at George Washington University Hospital, also in the capital, reported an increased in reports of pain and chronic illnesses in the week after the attacks.

Dr James Griffiths, associate chairman of the psychiatry department, said: "The medicine department was swamped with ... patients with rheumatoid arthritis, pain, asthma."


Roberta Hagen, a nurse in Maryland, has suffered from chronic back pain for 10 years.

But she said her pain "skyrocketed" on the day of the attack when she was waiting to hear from her nephew who worked in the World Trade Center.

Her symptoms continued even after she heard he was safe.

She said: "It was absolutely miserable. Obtaining information about my nephew helped, but then there was a secondary effect of sympathy for the rest of the folks who didn't survive.

"Normally, you think you have such good control, and then you find with these outside stressors [that] you lose that and the condition just goes out of control."

Another patient, Judy Denny, 55, has suffered from chronic pain in her right leg since failed back surgery left her paraplegic four years ago.

Ms Denny, a patient of Dr Rhodes at the Washington Hospital Center, said her pain had become worse over the last few weeks, something her doctor linked to her response to the attacks.

Ms Denny said: "I never, ever put it together before, but I have been having particular problems with my right leg in the last few weeks.

"There are earthquakes in other countries that kill thousands of people, and we don't see that as a major thing in our lives, but when its the Twin Towers, it really gets to you."

See also:

20 May 01 | Health
Back to nature for pain relief
31 May 01 | Health
Training to beat 'phantom pain'
31 May 00 | Health
Feeling lost limbs
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