Chronic pain is a bigger health issue than cancer but is badly neglected, leading to long waiting lists for treatment and people living in misery, an expert says.
Australia's leading pain medicine specialist Michael Cousins says pain can be considered a disease because if not properly treated at the start, it can cause the brain to change and continue to register pain even after the initial injury has healed.
He said people could end up with long-term pain after surgery, injury, cancer treatment or childbirth, or without any obvious trigger.
Professor Cousins, a University of Sydney researcher and director of advocacy group Pain Australia, is giving the annual Dean's Lecture at Notre Dame University's Tannock Hall in Fremantle from 4pm today.
He is supporting the university's move to include chronic pain management in its medical school curriculum, after Perth couple Geoff and Moira Churack donated $1 million to education and research.
Chronic pain affects one in five Australians and costs $39 billion a year in health care alone.
Professor Cousins said the number of people with ongoing pain after surgery had been greatly underestimated, and the risk was often determined by genetic and environmental factors.
"We have to look very carefully at people after surgery or trauma whose acute pain doesn't seem to get better as it should do, within the first week or so," he said.
"If it doesn't, there is something amiss and that's the first red flag that the person could be susceptible to developing chronic pain."
'We have to look very carefully at people after surgery or trauma whose acute pain doesn't seem to get better.'" *Professor Michael Cousins *