Recognition and diagnosis of breakthrough pain.
OBJECTIVE: To review major clinical issues related to recognition and diagnosis of breakthrough pain. ISSUES: Persistent pain and breakthrough pain (BTP) are distinct clinical entities that should be recognized, diagnosed, and treated individually. BTP is common in patients with cancer and a variety of other chronic diseases. Reported incidence of BTP varies widely from 16% to 95% of those with persistent pain syndromes. Such variability is likely due to lack of a clear consensus on the definition of BTP. It is most commonly defined as an abrupt, short-lived, and intense pain that "breaks through" the around-the-clock analgesia that controls persistent pain. The three subtypes of BTP are incident, idiopathic, and end-of-dose failure. BTP also is categorized as somatic, visceral, neuropathic, or mixed. Appropriate assessment of the patient takes into consideration source, severity, pattern, subtype, and cause of pain. Successful treatment is important because BTP has a profound impact on the patient's quality of life, as well as cost of health care. BTP is likely to be underdiagnosed and undertreated because of the lack of consensus on its definition and unwarranted concerns among health care professionals and patients about overmedicating. Additionally, and for reasons not entirely clear, many physicians and other health care providers place a low priority on pain management and underrecognize the occurrence of BTP in patients with persistent pain. CONCLUSION: Greater knowledge and awareness of BTP in cancer and nonmalignant conditions will lead to improved recognition and diagnosis of BTP and ultimately to more effective treatment and enhanced quality of life for these patients.
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