Can you die of pure pain?
Yes, Yes, and Yes. I nearly died seven times.
Others have answered this question who clearly have never been subjected to pain that is so intense and prolonged that sleep deprivation could be the cause of death by a heart attack. That was my first ‘almost’ died. Just so you have a sense of the intensity of the pain. Imagine being in the last stage of labor as if you are going to give birth. Mothers can fully identify with this. The abdominal cramps had no intermission. The pain that I was in for about four weeks caused a psychotic break. Now, that break pushed me close to committing suicide. Too close. At the same time my body was breaking down because I could barely eat or drink anything. I dropped to a dangerous ninety pounds.
Now came the worst part. No pain management doctor would take me or administer anything other than Tylenol with codeine. The laws now are so severe to stop drug abuse that no pain doctor would follow the advice of my specialist: either paralyze my body or prescribe methadone. If I had cancer, I would have had a code or reasonable assurance that a doctor would have prescribed me something strong enough to deal with the pain. But some disorders are not well-understood, so those people fall through the cracks and either die because of suicide or breakdown of bodily organs.
This is what will happen to Baby Boomers if there is no change to accommodate those who are in horrific pain, assuming the diagnosis isn’t terminal cancer and perhaps a disorder not understood by the medical community.
- Caregivers will risk their lives to take care of loved ones. They, too, are up throughout the night to make certain loved ones don’t fall because ones they are so disoriented and delirious.
- People telling you need to have a positive attitude to survive.
- Doctors telling you that they will lose their license if they were to prescribe drugs such as methadone to people who even have incurable disorders. What difference does it make if the drugs are addictive if the pain is incurable?
- Family members who invalidate your pain because they, too, don’t understand the pain you’re in.
- Having to keep silent about the pain because no one wants to hear about it. So, you don’t discuss it. Except now.
- Loss of friends and your previous life because of being housebound.
- Loss of dignity because you can’t do anything by yourself.
- Knowing that the pain could be dealt with if the laws supported the doctors’ judgments.
- How did I finally get the medication I needed? I ended up in the cardiac unit a second time in shock from the pain. Fortunately, a team of doctors saw one of these full-blown episodes. They were frightened, so they gave me exactly what I needed. For the first time in thirty-five years, I knew what it felt like to not be in pain. But it wasn’t over.
- After 4 days, the doctors signed my release to go home without a script or even a few pills! My husband was in disbelief. Now we were back to square one, and I was going through withdrawal.
- One week later, my pain management doctor, from a few years ago, saw me at another clinic. He whispered to me that there was nothing he could do at the clinic, but that I should call his office. He broke the law and prescribed what I needed. If he hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t be alive today. This was five years ago. Know that if my condition gets worse that I have been told that under no circumstances can he raise the dose. This was the result of yet another law about methadone.
- My husband now has a heart condition that is a direct result of taking care of me. My health ruined his health.
- Edit: I was asked by Quora to add a credential to the above question. My credential is experience. Pain can cause heart attacks. Psychotic breaks can cause suicide.
As a chronic pain sufferer myself, I am going to answer yes. I have heart trouble as well and I can tell you, pain is exhausting. You might ask can a person die of exhaustion? Lack of sleep? I just had heart attack #4 and I think my uncontrolled pain had something to do with it. Constant exhaustion because pain will not let you sleep. Constant anxiety and how to relieve it, what to do minute by minute. Lack of appetite and reluctance to cook due to the pain. In my case this lead to a low potassium level which does actually cause heart attacks. Pain is physiological and psychological stress. That makes you adrenal glands kick out cortisol which I’d determental and increased adrenalin production which stress the heart and kidneys.
There is no reason people have to be in unrelenting pain, but you will find government regulations and red tape stop many doctors from prescibing approriate pain medicine. I wish this damn society would stop stygmitizing pain sufferers with drug addicts. We might as well be living in the dark ages as far as access to proper care and the fault lies with doctors, the government and the public who think pain killers are made for drug abusers and not patients. The damn public needs to get their noses out of everyone’s business, stop being judgmental, and think they know how to micromanage everyone’s lives.
Some of the people I know who wish these medicines weren’t even available I wish I could let have my pain for a few weeks. Then we’ll see what they beg for because hey, their lives are important, jobs, families. They must function. Which is exactly what pain meds for chronic pain allow the person to do, stand, walk, rest, and participat in life.
People are very bad about judging otheres if they have nor been through the same situation themselves, they are as blind empathetically as the autistic child.
I have read some of the answers below and disagree, it is hard to assess whether or not pain alone can cause death – pain normally causes a physiological response- increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, shock. All of these things unchecked can kill. Pain can also cause Myocardial Infarction or Heart Attack but again it is not the pain that is causing death it is the condition caused by the pain.
The distinction is subtle but important (in medical terms anyway – to the average person the distinction might not be so important), a cause of death is determined by physiological factors (where the death is from ‘natural’ causes) or from trauma/chemical inducement (where there are external factors), but pain itself is not a cause of death, similarly fear itself is not a cause of death, fear can cause physiological problems that then lead to death but it is not the fear itself that kills. Of course one could argue that without the pain or the fear, the physiological factors that ultimately caused death would not have occurred and in such cases, I suppose it could be said that Pain caused death but I am not aware of any cases where Pain alone has been listed as a cause of death.
I have not done years of research so am not saying pain absolutely cannot cause death but it is unlikely. Certainly Pain can and often is a contributing factor and can lead to other things – sleeplessness, heart attack, haemorrhagic stroke due to high blood pressure – caused by intense pain and most of us (myself included) have probably never experienced the type of extreme pain that other contributors have described or that would cause the above symptoms. Pain that can be managed with low level painkillers – ibuprofen, aspirin, paracetamol (acetaminophen), codeine – certainly taken orally, sometimes even when given IV is not the type of pain that is in here. Pain that requires IV morphine continuously to the point where clinicians are concerned about the addictive tendencies of the drug is a different kind of pain altogether and one that can only truly be understood when you have experienced it.
I remember reading James Herriot (Veterinary doctor and famous writer) narrating an incident. A ewe was in terrible pain after giving birth to a lamb. The owner didn’t want to pay the vet to put the poor ewe out of its misery. Even without the owner’s permission, Herriot felt pity and decided to inject the ewe with a high dose of tranquilizer to kill it.
He ran to his car, took the syringe, and injected the ewe before the farmer could return. When farmer came back, he said goodbye and nonchalantly headed back to his car. Suddenly, the farmer exclaimed that the ewe was dying before their eyes. James Herriot watched the ewe drowsily sag to the floor, then he drove off his car.
A few weeks later, Herriot visited the same farmer for another patient. He was surprised to find the ewe he had “killed” running around. He tried to examine her, but he couldn’t even catch her. She was perfectly healthy. He realised that she was dying because of ‘pure pain’. When he injected the tranquilizer, she slept soundly, giving her body a respite from the constant pain. She slept for two days and, by then, her body had recuperated and she was healthy again.
I think if sheep die from pain, humans would be affected same way, too. I guess humans, having a bigger brain, would even suffer from depression with constant pain. Pure pain can cause death.
Yes. Pain CAN kill. For all the research you could possibly want, search John Liebeskind + pain. In 1991, he published a study simply titled “Pain can kill”.
In 1993, Liebeskind published a study in the international journal Pain showing that unmanaged pain can suppress the immune system’s natural killer cells, which play an important role in fighting cancer. Pain, he said, should not be regarded as a mere symptom of an underlying disease, but can itself cause tumors to spread more rapidly.
Much more research came from his labs, among which showed that post-op patients who had poor pain management (self-rated) had over TWICE the morbidity and mortality of post-op patients with good pain management.
In other words, you are more than twice as likely to die after an operation if your pain is not well controlled, compared to if it is well controlled.
Liebeskind did all he could during his life to educate other physicians that the dangers of opiates were highly overrated, and the dangers of pain were highly underrated. Sadly, he only succeeded in educating a relative few. Public hysteria and complete lack of utilizing evidence-based medicine still shrouds the majority of physician’s attitudes towards opiates.
In Britain, a long-term study showed that chronic pain patients who endured poor pain management had more than twice the death rate of chronic pain patients who had good pain management.
Arguing that “pain doesn’t kill, it’s the reduced immune system function caused by pain that kills” is as silly as arguing that a car crash isn’t what really kills someone—it’s the blunt force trauma that’s to blame.
A fundamental cause is a fundamental cause. Pain can kill you.
Yes you can but indirectly so. An otherwise healthy person with no internal organ damage or blood loss as a result of the source of pain won’t die from the pain. They may pass out or wish to die, but they will not die.
You likely know this but to understand the reasoning for my answer, it is worth noting that pain is the brain’s way of telling you to stop whatever it is that is hurting your body. Obviously you may not have control over that but it is a good thing for pain because we would miss out on very important things such as heart attacks or perhaps bleeding to death because you failed to realize that the back of your leg was just sliced open.
The pain response causes changes in your body that can be dangerous to diseased organs. During or as a result of the pain response, the brain releases chemicals that increase the workload on the heart, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. This can cause a heart attack or damage to arteries that are already fragile. The person may die as a result. The same applies for brittle arteries in other parts of the body such as a blood clot that is loosened and causes a stoke or pulmonary embolism.
[Update: based on additional input in comments I’m going to revise my answer to: Probably Not Pain Alone – I’ll leave the rest here for additional comment]
I believe that you can, but only indirectly. [I am not a doctor, this is a researched opinion only and I welcome any corrections or confirmations]
Acute, intense pain can cause shock: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shock_(circulatory)
Shock is a condition where there is basically insufficient blood flow/oxygen levels (for the technical details read the wiki page), which can damage your organs and can quickly cause death.
Shock (of many sources) in wounded soldiers is a common factor of mortality and, when medically indicated, the quick administration of pain killers (such as morphine) was found to substantially reduce the complications and deaths from shock. Soldiers in several wars carried morphine, including WW-II:
Many lives were saved on the battlefield by the proper administration of pain relieving agents which helped to reduce the effects of shock.
Unfortunately, there are also conditions where the administration of morphine, or other pain killers, is contraindicated so you must be properly educated to be able to make the right decisions about how to treat someone who is injured.
Unbearable pain that is not severe enough to cause shock (or combined with a major injury which exacerbates the situation) is unlikely to kill you, except as Russell already discussed, due to eventual depression and suicide.
I am a long term, severe pain patient, with a condition often called Central Pain Syndrome. As it sounds, my central nervous system was damaged by head injuries resulting in a continuous pain condition. Aside from chronic pain it also entails severe acute pain of unknown origin.
Yes pain can kill you at high enough levels. For me, it greatly impacted blood pressure and heart rate. 60 bpm 80/120 to 115 bpm 160/115 at rest. This put me at high risk for stroke. Had we not been able to control it, I’d likely be dead by stroke, although pain would be the root cause.
I have also had a vasovagal response during surgery that caused my heart to stop. This is another concern without adequate control of pain. It takes very high levels but it can happen. At high levels, even medicated, it can leave me writhing in bed in a somewhat delirious state…and vomiting.
I would say highest risk of terminal outcome for severe pain patients is suicide. I spent over a year doing cognitive behavioral therapy to help deal with the pain and find work around to help keep it from controlling all aspects of my life. Without proactive action, suicide becomes very high risk and it’s an often forgotten component of severe pain.
If you think about it, except for those killed by trauma or fast-acting poison, most people die of exhaustion.
Cancers, degenerative diseases, pain. Anything that wears you down until you just can’t continue. Most of the diseases of old age are like that. They strip away what you can do, which strips away what you do, which strips away your stamina. Add in pain, and you can’t sleep, or at least not well enough to be rested. If you are given narcotics and high-potency pain-killers, you become even more lethargic, and anything that you don’t use, you lose. So that’s even more stamina evaporating. So body systems slowly shut down, and finally you just give up.
Severe and relentless pain also strips away motivation to do anything except get away from the pain. When you reach the point of such exhaustion that you can’t even do anything to distract yourself from the worst of the pain, all that is left is to embrace death.
Not pretty or inspiring, but death isn’t anyway.
Yes you can, and I did. In the emergency room, I was in so much pain, I kept screaming help me, take the pain away, no one paid attention to me, I finally got a doctor to listen to me and he asked me have I ever had this pain before and I said yes, he said what happened and I told him I died, next thing I know I wake up in another room with a big phone number on the wall that said coroners number. They are shooting me up with pain medicine and I’m still in pain, I think they gave me dilated 3 times. My doctors listen to me now, when I say I’m in pain.
Whether or not pain alone can cause death one must look to the mind. If a person gives up due to pain and its cause, the body seems to follow the mind. I’ve been around people who had cancer and the ones who are positive about their illness and the sometimes terrible treatments have a much higher chance of “winning.” One who is depressed, with a “poor me” attitude, treatment might not do as well.
One point about pain: Due to the opioid crisis, some doctors tell their geriatric patients, “You’re too old to feel pain.” Can one imagine having a painless broken hip? A problem for those in a long term facility, especially if they are experiencing dementia, is unskilled or unethical employees taking the patient’s pain meds. That’s one reason why family members must visit often but without setting a pattern, e.g. different times and days for visits.
I would assume so. I had a unique situation when I gave birth to my middle child. As with all my kids (I have five) I had given birth to her via natural childbirth, no pain meds, no epidural, nothing.
After she was born, the pain level of the after pains was so strong that it sent me into shock. At that point, my blood pressure was so high they insisted I take a mild pain reliever (acetaminophen) to take the edge off because I was in danger of a stroke. So, yes. If I could go into shock from the pain and be in danger of a stroke, than I’d guess it’s possible to die from pain.
I am not directly aware of any case, but I think that, in a patient with a heart or cerebrovascular condition , a severe pain could cause death by inducing a fatal stroke, infarction or arrhythmia. In the first 2 cases, the increase in the sympathetic outflow caused by the distress of the pain would stress the cardiovascular system to a point in which an already damaged blood vessels could break in the heart or in the brain causing death; in the last case, the vaso-vagal reflex could cause a lethal bradyarrhythmia.
science horror fiction (at least I hope)
If the pain was to be induced by direct neurochemical stimulation of certain specific brain areas, it could lead to such powerful activation of the sympathetic nervous system that the sympthoms previously described for a patient with a condition could be induced also in a healty person