Migraines, Back Pain and ‘Psychogenic’ Pain Raise Risk of Suicide

Migraines, Back Pain and ‘Psychogenic’ Pain Raise Risk of Suicide

bigstock-Dramatic-black-and-white-portr-35649329People who suffer from migraine, back pain and “psychogenic” pain have a significantly higher risk of committing suicide, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. Psychogenic pain is a diagnosis by a physician that the origins of pain in a patient are psychological, not physical.

Several previous studies have suggested that chronic pain patients are at higher risk of suicide, but this was the first study of its kind to examine a link between suicide and specifics types of pain.

“To our knowledge, this study is the largest and most comprehensive analysis to date of associations between non-cancer pain and suicide mortality,” said Mark Ilgren, PhD, lead author and researcher at the Veterans Affairs Serious Mental Illness Treatment Resource and Evaluation Center in Ann Arbor, MI. The study is being published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Ilgren and his colleagues examined the health records of over 4,800,000 patients who were treated in the VA healthcare system in 2005. Researchers then looked for an association between those with seven diagnosed pain conditions (arthritis, back pain, migraine, neuropathy, headache, fibromyalgia and psychogenic pain) and subsequent suicides from 2006 to 2008.

Patients with psychogenic pain were found to have a 58% higher risk of committing suicide compared to patients without pain, followed by patients with migraine (34%) and back pain (13%).

Patients in the VA study who were diagnosed with fibromyalgia were found to have a 16% higher risk of suicide, but due to a small sample size the data for those patients is not considered strong. Arthritis, neuropathy and headache were found to be weakly associated with suicide.

“The vast majority of people with a pain condition do not die by suicide,” Ilgren told National Pain Report.

Researchers believe certain types of pain, such as migraine, may have a biological mechanism that raise the risk of suicide even for people with no psychiatric disorders.

There is also the frustration and stress that comes with pain treatment that doesn’t work.

“Patients with these pain conditions also may be more likely to feel hopeless and to have impairments in occupational and social functioning that could lead more directly to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Negative expectations about one’s ability to effectively manage or treat pain could lead to suicide ideation, and these effects might be greatest for certain conditions such as psychogenic pain,” Ilgren said.

Regardless of the cause, Ilgren says all physicians should be aware that their pain patients are at higher risk of suicide.

“I think the message for treatment providers, especially for primary care and pain treatment providers is to be attuned to the patient’s mental health needs, symptoms, and suicidal thoughts and plans who have pain conditions.”

suicideprevention1A major weakness in the VA study is that most of the patients are older men, who are at higher risk of suicide than the general population. Men are also less likely to have fibromyalgia than women.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with about 34,000 people killing themselves each year.

If you or a loved one are in emotional distress, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has counselors available 24 hours day, seven days a week, at 800-273-TALK (8255). You are not alone. Help and hope are available.

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor

There are 3 comments for this article
  1. Wasnt Mee at 2:51 pm

    Pschogenic pain must include those whose pain has not been found to have a specific cause yet if ever. A doctor can easily make patients have suicidal thoughts by having doubts about pain. There is so much to lose when told “It’s all in your head”. First the doctors, then your insurance and last your family.

    I had them. I still do almost every day. If it was easy, I would have done it already. I fought my case with Docs, WC, case manager and insurer until my claim was justified by a test. If it can’t be verified, it’s all in your head.

    I’m afraid very few people can recognize some one who has these thoughts. I’ve learned by now that everybody moves on. You are alone, left in your own mind to move on too. My Doctor, family and friends would say they had no idea along with my wife of 32 years.

    Me, I am way past counseling. When you realize you are alone in dragging yourself to move on; you really don’t care any more. Not to talk. Not to listen.

  2. Dennis Kinch at 11:19 am

    Psychogenic pain…hmmm. That was my diagnosis for many years as the powers that be tried to get me off their roles. Even with visible bone lesions, fractures and soft tissue damage they were able to convince my carrier to drop me because I kept a pain diary and thus I was “deeply and somatically invested in my own pain.”. This ruined my life completely and as a newly born homeless person, (and for the first time ever), I contemplated suicide. I’ve spent the last 10 years studying chronic pain, and the illusions that go with it as we sink into depression, but the worst pain there is, a non-illusion…is when no one believes you. A holistic approach to pain is the only approach to pain. Insurance companies need to start covering alternative methods and counseling; pain counseling not psychotherapy, along with conventional methods. It saved my life, literally.

  3. Santa Hernandez at 4:08 pm

    The real problem is not the pain itself,is the lack of understanding of the healthcare providers,doctors. Actually,most of the time doctors just treat the symptoms,which is pain,but the the root of the pain. Pain is the most misunderstanding disease because it’s invisible and there’s no way to measure the intensity of it. We perceive pain differently and it’s very hard to treat a condition that is different on each individual. Most of us who live with chronic pain without any relief,it’s the frustration and indifference of many doctors,friends,family and the society who make us decide about ending our lives. I have heard many times,”There’s nothing I can do for you.”

    Every human being has experience pain,acute or chronic. However,pain is very subjective,is a perception that we can’t understand or try to imagine someone else pain. It’s very easy to judge someone who has end his or her life,but the only way we could understand his or her decision,it’s to be on her shoes. Unfortunately,healthcare providers haven’t done much on controlling and treating pain. It’s also frustrating for them when someone is not getting relief from the treatment and they simply give up on us,so many times we don’t have other alternative.

    Thousands dealing with excruciating chronic pain have been begging for help and understanding and the ONLY thing we receive is a referral to go to psychotherapy. It does help,but it’s not enough. However,when someone mention about ending her or his life,then everyone interferes with our decision. What authority,right and moral, people has to interfere in our lives.

    I think that we should have the right to decide whatever we want to do with our life. I don’t understand why someone has the right to stop us from doing what we think it could be best for us. When an adult makes the decision to marry,have a tattoo,cut or dye her hair,move out of the city or country NOBODY has any right to stop that person,so the same goes if that person doesn’t want to be in this world,he or she deserves the right to go,even if he or she is in good health. Nobody ask our society permission to get pregnant and bring a person to this world,so why he or she is judged from deciding to depart? If we didn’t ask to come into life,we deserve the privilege and right to leave,no matter what the reasons are.