The 20 most painful conditions a person can suffer from revealed by the NHS

Pain describes an unpleasant sensation and can vary in severity. Most people can cope with pain on the lower end of the scale, such as stubbing your toe, a paper cut or banging your funny bone. But some conditions can cause more serious pain which can hugely impact how a person goes about their day to day life. The NHS has a list of the most painful conditions a person has to live with.


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The health body also offers advice on the exact symptoms associated with the condition and how it’s best treated.

1. Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are described as “excruciating attacks of pain” by the health body.

They usually affect one side of the head and can often be felt around the eye.

The attack generally lasts between 15 minutes and three hours, and can occur between one and eight times a day.

Cluster headaches are not life-threatening, but may require sumatriptan injections, sumatriptan or zolmitriptan nasal spray, or oxygen therapy as treatment. Over-the-counter painkillers are not effective.

2. Shingles

Shingles causes a painful rash and you should get advice from 111 as soon as possible if you think you have it.

The NHS says the first signs can be a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin and a headache or feeling generally unwell. A rash usually appears a few days later and tends to appears on the chest and tummy.

Shingles can be treated with paracetamol to ease pain. Wearing loose-fitting clothing and using a cool compress can also help.

3. Frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder means your shoulder is painful and stiff for months – sometimes it can last years.

The NHS advises it can be treated with shoulder exercises and painkillers.

4. Broken bones

A broken bone can prove incredibly painful. The three most common signs are pain, swelling and deformity.

Treatment usually involves lining up and repositioning the bone until it sets properly.

Recovery time depends on the size of the bone and the age of the person.

5. Complex regional pain syndrome

Complex regional pain syndrome is where a person experiences persistent severe and debilitating pain. The pain usually only affects one limb, but it can sometimes spread to other parts of the body.

The NHS advises: “You should see a GP if you have persistent pain that’s preventing you from carrying out everyday activities.”

6. Heart attack

A heart attack is a serious medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. You should call 999 and ask for an ambulance if you suspect a heart attack.

One of the main symptoms is chest pain. This NHS explains: “The chest can feel like it’s being pressed or squeezed by a heavy object, and pain can radiate from the chest to the jaw, neck, arms and back.”

Shortness of breath, feeling weak or lightheaded, or both, and an overwhelming feeling of anxiety are other signs.

7. Slipped disc

A sipped disc is when a soft cushion of tissue between the bones in your spine pushes out. It can prove painful if it presses on nerves.

It usually gets better slowly with rest, gentle exercises and painkillers.

8. Sickle cell disease

Sickle cell disease is the name for a group of inherited health conditions that affect the red blood cells. Pain in the hands or feet, ribs and breastbone, spine, pelvis, tummy or legs and arms is one of the main symptoms.

The NHS says the main thing you can do to reduce your chances of experiencing a painful episode is to try avoiding possible triggers.

You may be advised to:

  • Drink plenty o fluids to avoid dehydration
  • Wear warm clothing to stop you getting cold
  • Avoid sudden temperature changes, such as swimming in cold water.

9. Arthritis

Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint.

There’s no cure, but there are many treatments than can hep slow down the condition.

For osteoarthritis, one type of arthritis, lifestyle changes, medicines and surgery can help.

10. Migraines

A migraine is described as a moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head.

Mainly people who have migraines find over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen can help reduce symptoms.

11. Sciatica

Sciatica is when the sciatic nerve, which runs from the hips to the feet, is irritated. Someone with sciatica may feel stabbing, burning or shooting pain in their bottom, backs of the legs, feet and toes.

Treatment usually involves exercises and streets and prescribed painkillers.


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12. Kidney stones

Kidney stones can be extremely painful and can lead to kidney infections or the kidney not working properly if left untreated.

They’re caused when waste products in the blood from crystals and build up to form a hard stone-like lump.

The NHS advises: “Most kidney stones are small enough to be passed in your pee, and it may be possible to treat the symptoms at home with medication. Larger stones may need to be broken up or removed with surgery.”

13. Appendicitis

Appendicitis is a painful swelling in the appendix, which is connected to the large intestine.

Appendicitis usually starts with a pain in the middle of the tummy, and within hours, the pain travels to the lower righto-hand side, where the appendix usually lies, and becomes constant and severe.

If you have pain that suddenly gets worse and spread across the abdomen, or if your pain temporarily improves before getting worse again, call 999.

The NHS warns: “If your pain eases for a while but then gets worse, your appendix may have burst, which can lead to life-threatening complications.”

If you have appendicitis, it’s likely your appendix will need to be removed as soon as possible.

14. Trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is sudden, severe facial pain.

The NHS says: “Most people with trigeminal neuralgia will be prescribed medicine to help control their pain, although surgery may be considered for the longer term in cases where medicine is ineffective or causes too many side effects.”

15. Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Many of the symptoms are pain related – pain in the lower tummy or back, period pain, pain during or after sex, pain when peeing or pooing during your period.

There’s currently no cure for endometriosis, but there are treatments that can help ease the symptoms, such as painkillers, hormone medicines and contraceptives, and surgery to cut away patches of endometriosis tissue.

16. Gout

Gout is sudden severe joint pain, usually in the big toe or fingers, wrists, elbows or knees.

Attacks of gout are usually treated with anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen.

17. Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed over a short period of time. One of the main symptoms is suddenly getting severe pain in the centre of the tummy.

The NHS advises to see a GP immediately if you suddenly develop severe abdominal pain. If this isn’t possible, contact NHS 111 for advice.

Treatment for the condition usually involves admission to hospital.

18. Stomach ulcer

A stomach ulcer is an open sore that develops on the lining of the stomach, and the most common symptom is a burning or gnawing pain in the centre of the tummy.

You should contact your GP if you think you have a stomach ulcer. The NHS advises: “With treatment, most stomach ulcers will heal within a month or two. The treatment recommended for you will depend on what caused the ulcer.”

19. Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.

There’s currently no cure, but there are a number of treatments to help relieve some of the symptoms, such as painkillers, cognitive behavioural therapy, and lifestyle changes, such as exercise programmes and relaxation techniques.

20. Pain after surgery

It’s common for pain to occur after surgery. The intensity of the pain will vary according to the type of operation.

But if you’re worried about the kind of pain you’re experiencing, contact your GP.

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