Elderly with chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP) face a greater heart disease risk. By the year 2020, in fact, medical experts estimate that almost 40 percent of all deaths worldwide will be related to cardiovascular disease. So the push is on to unravel the causes and enforce prevention. As research continues, more evidence suggests that there is a link between heart disease and chronic pain. If you experience ongoing aches and pains in certain areas or throughout your body, chances are, heart problems will follow.
According to the Institute of Medicine, 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. This statistic becomes even more frightening when you consider that research out of the United Kingdom shows that almost half of elderly people who suffer from chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP) go on to suffer cardiovascular disease. People with chronic pain who are over 65, in fact, are 82 percent more likely to have heart problems than those who do not have chronic pain. Pain hurts in more ways than one.
Researchers at Teesside University in the U.K., along with scientists in Northern Ireland and the United States, studied the health surveys of more than 5,000 adults. They found that 47 percent of those over 65 who reported chronic pain had cardiovascular disease. Middle-aged adults who had chronic pain were also at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Twenty-three percent of those with CMP went on to develop cardiovascular disease. Only 14 percent of people without chronic pain reported they had no cardiovascular problems. As we said, odds are stacked against you.
The research team drew the conclusion that chronic musculoskeletal pain can be a factor in causing cardiovascular disease.
Musculoskeletal pain is a type of pain that affects the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves. It can be severe and long-lasting. It can also be localized or widespread, meaning pain throughout the body. Many people who have chronic pain also have inflammation, and studies have shown that inflammation is an underlying factor in 80 percent of sudden cardiac death. So the link between chronic pain and cardiac death solidifies.
Many doctors say they have come to understand that cholesterol, lack of exercise, certain genetic factors and smoking can all trigger an inflammatory response in the body, thereby leading to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and other health problems. One of the biggest hurdles with CMP is that many sufferers find daily physical activity difficult and therefore become sedentary, which exacerbates the issue: Inactivity itself is a big contributor to poor cardiovascular health.
The U.K. researchers insist that chronic pain should be a public health priority and that strong prevention strategies be put in place.
Treating chronic pain can be a challenge for many. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. In fact, oftentimes CMP patients will have to try several different treatments and remedies before they find something that will give them enough comfort to lead them to a better quality of life. In some cases, people do turn to pain medications; however, some of those medications come with caution – some painkillers include the warning label, “don’t use if you have a history of heart problems.” What does that tell you about medication risks?
In recent years some painkillers have been taken off the market because they tend to trigger irregular heartbeat. At the same time though, we are seeing more and more non-drug therapies used to treat chronic pain. These approaches include acupuncture, meditation, yoga and biofeedback, a therapy that uses the mind-over-matter practice to control pain.
If you do have chronic pain and are working on a plan to manage it, consult with your doctor about non-drug therapies to try – and take steps to protect your heart, too. Incorporate more fatty fish into your diet, proven to protect your heart, along with plenty of greens and whole foods, and boost your activity level. With cardiovascular disease clearly on the rise, changing your daily habits for better health will put you on track for heart disease prevention. Give that heart of yours some love!