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Pain is defined by the International Association for the Study of Pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage”.
Some illnesses can be excruciating. Here are 20 health conditions that cause notoriously severe pain. They're not ranked in any particular order.
Shingles is one of the most painful medical conditions you can be unlucky enough to experience. Caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox, it’s characterised by a rash or crop of blisters on one side of your body, often around the waistline.
2. Cluster headaches
They’re acknowledged to be the most painful type of headache, worse even than severe migraines. In fact, experts have suggested that cluster headache may be the most painful condition known to medical science.
3. Frozen shoulder
This condition isn’t just extremely painful, it can also last for several years unless it’s properly treated.
In frozen shoulder, the joint becomes so tight and stiff that it’s virtually impossible to carry out simple movements such as raising your arm.
4. Broken bones
A broken or cracked bone is known as a fracture. Common examples are broken ankle, broken hip, broken arm and broken nose.
5. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
With Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a severe pain follows an injury to bone and soft tissue. It can happen to anyone at any age, but is most common in women in their 40s and 50s.
6. Heart attack
If you have a heart attack, you usually get a pain in the centre of your chest – often described as a sensation of heaviness, tightness or squeezing that can be so bad it causes you to collapse.
7. Slipped disc
Back pain affects eight out of 10 people at some point in their lives and one of the most common causes of back pain is a slipped disc, often the result of a twisting or lifting injury. What happens in this medical condition is that one of the discs in the spine ruptures and the gel inside leaks out.
Most people with advanced cancer experience pain, either from the tumours themselves or as a side effect of cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation.
People with arthritis endure constant and often agonising joint pain, usually in the hips, knees, wrists or fingers.
The pain can come on suddenly or over time and is often linked with muscle aches and stiffness in the joints.
Various different types of arthritis can cause joint damage, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and lupus.
A migraine headache is much more painful than a conventional headache and tends to last for longer, with the worst ones persisting for up to three days or more.
Sciatica is the name given to an aching pain running down the leg. It’s caused when the sciatic nerve – the longest nerve in the body, which stretches from your back to your feet – has been pinched or irritated by damage to the back. It's often caused by a slipped disc.
Sciatica is different to general back pain – the pain of sciatica hardly affects your back at all but instead radiates out from your lower back, down the buttocks and into one or both of the legs, right down to the calf.
12. Kidney stones
Passing a kidney stone produces a sudden, incredibly sharp, cramping pain in your lower back or the side of your abdomen, or occasionally in your groin, which may last for minutes or hours, with pain-free intervals in between.
Appendicitis is a painful swelling of the appendix, a finger-like pouch attached to the gut wall. It's most common in children, who typically complain of pain in the middle of their tummy that comes and goes. The pain then shifts to the lower right side of the tummy and gets a lot worse.
14. Trigeminal neuralgia
The pain of trigeminal neuralgia is often described as feeling like an electric shock shooting through the face. Others have described intense sensations of burning or stabbing. They often describe a trigger area on their face that’s so sensitive that touching or even air currents can trigger an episode.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a banana-sized organ that’s part of the digestive system, and its most common symptom is awful abdominal pain.
Gout is one of the most painful forms of arthritis where swelling and severe pain develops in a joint, often the base of the big toe, to the point where even touching or moving the toe can be agony.
Many people associate gout with Henry VIII and good living, but it’s a myth that gout is caused by binge drinking and gorging on rich food.
One in 10 women in the UK experiences the painful gynaecological condition endometriosis, where cells like the ones in the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the body.
While some women with endometriosis have no symptoms at all, others have lots of pain – pelvic pain, period pain and pain during and after sex.
18. Stomach ulcer
An ulcer is a sore or hole that forms in the lining of the stomach. For the one in 10 of us that will have a stomach ulcer at some point, it causes a gnawing or burning pain in the abdomen, often between meals and in the early hours of the morning.
Ulcer pain is usually relieved by eating or taking a type of medicine called antacids.
The exact cause of fibromyalgia isn’t known but it can cause widespread aches and pains all over the body, usually as lots of tender areas on the back of the neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, shins, elbows and knees. People with fibromyalgia often say they ache all over.
20. Pain after an operation
It's common to have some pain after surgery, though the intensity of the pain will vary according to the type of operation.
But too much pain after surgery is not a good thing and you should never feel you have to 'tough it out'.
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