Box 52.1Classification of Pain

Pain is classified according to two main characteristics: temporal and physiologic. Temporal categories are

  • acute pain
    • characterized by a well-defined onset and self-limited end
    • allows clear description of location, character, and timing
    • shows signs of autonomic nervous system hyperactivity—for example, tachycardia, hypertension, profuse sweating (diaphoresis), dilated pupils (mydriasis), or pallor
  • chronic or persistent pain
    • long lasting, usually defined as at least three months
    • characterized by a localization, character, and timing that is often more vague than with acute pain
    • characterized by adaptation of the autonomic nervous system, so signs of hyperactivity disappear
    • results in significant changes in psychological, functional, and social status.

Physiologic pain categories are

  • somatic pain
    • originates in ligaments, tendons, bones, blood vessels, and nerves
    • sharp or dull, but typically well localized and intermittent
  • visceral pain
    • originates in body organs and results from activation of nociceptive receptors and efferent nerves
    • characterized by deep aching and cramping, often referred to cutaneous sites
  • neuropathic pain
    • results from direct injury to peripheral receptors, nerves, or the central nervous system
    • typically burning and dysesthetic (abnormal and unpleasant), often in area of sensory loss.

Source: Authors.

From: Chapter 52, Pain Control for People with Cancer and AIDS

Cover of Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries
Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries. 2nd edition.
Jamison DT, Breman JG, Measham AR, et al., editors.
Copyright © 2006, The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank Group.

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