Even when persistent pain is well controlled with regular doses of pain medication, you may experience breakthrough pain. This is a sudden and often intense worsening of the pain that "breaks through" the relief provided by the medications. Usually it comes on quickly, can last for up to an hour, and feels much like persistent pain — only worse. Breakthrough pain can happen spontaneously, with no apparent cause, or it can be triggered by your movement or a specific activity. Often it's difficult to predict exactly when it is going to happen, though, or how intense the pain is going to be. Breakthrough pain can happen throughout the day, even when you are on the right doses of medication for your persistent pain.
Treatment for breakthrough pain involves taking short-acting pain medicines — those that work quickly and for a short period of time — as soon as you notice the pain breaking through. These medicines target the episode of pain but only stay in the body for a short period of time, reducing the risk of side effects. Taking the medicine right away is important, because it can be difficult to get the pain under control once it becomes severe. If you know that a certain activity brings on breakthrough pain, you may want to take a dose of your medication in advance. It may take some time for you and your doctor to figure out the right medication and best dose for treating your breakthrough pain.
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