Home > Pain Glossary

Acetaminophen An over-the-counter, non-aspirin medication that relieves pain and reduces fever.
Acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) The chemical name for aspirin.
Acute pain Severe pain that has a sudden onset, but lasts a short time.
Addiction A psychological or physical dependence on a medication.
Adjuvant medicine Medicine that has another primary purpose, but may, in some cases, relieve pain.
Analgesic A medication or agent that relieves pain.
Anesthetic An agent that causes total or partial loss of physical sensation.
Aspirin An over-the-counter medication that relives pain and reduces inflammation and/or fever.
Breakthrough pain Pain that occurs even though the patient is being medicated.
Chronic pain Pain that is constant, and lasts a long time.
Corticosteroid An anti-inflammatory drug created from or based on a naturally-occurring hormone produced by the cortex of the adrenal glands.
Deep brain stimulation A pain control method using electrodes implanted in the brain and controlled by the patient.
Epidural medication A medication that is injected into the spinal column.
General anesthesia A state of unconsciousness induced by a medication that eliminates pain perception.
Immediate-release medication A medication that takes effect in a short period of time.
Infusion A method of administering medication into a vein.
Intramuscular (IM) injection Injection of medication into a muscle.
Intrathecal (IT) injection Injection of medication into the sheath surrounding the spinal cord.
Intravenous (IV) injection Injection of medication into a vein.
Local anesthetic A medication that blocks electrical signals in the nerves, and eliminates pain in a specific part of the body.
Long-acting or sustained release medication A medication that acts for long periods of time and is taken on a regular basis.
Narcotic A medication that produces pain relief by depressing the central nervous system. (See opioids.)
Nerve block Injection of a medication directly into the nerve or spine for pain control.
Neuropathic pain Pain, usually arising from nerve damage, that is burning, shooting, or numbing.
Non-opioid A medication that does not contain an opioid. Many of these medications are available over-the-counter, and do not require a prescription, i.e., acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) A medication used to reduce inflammation that is not corticosteroid-based, i.e., aspirin and ibuprofen.
Opioid A medication that requires a prescription and provides strong pain relief, i.e., morphine, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and codeine. More on opioids.
Oral medication A medication taken by mouth.
Pain scale A system of rating pain, often based on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst imaginable pain.
Pain threshold The point at which pain is noticeable.
Pain tolerance level The peak amount of pain that a person can endure.
Patient-controlled analgesis (PCA) A method of pain control that allows the patient to control the amount and timing of the medication they receive by pressing a button on a computerized pump.
Physical dependence The physical condition in which rapid discontinuation of a drug causes a withdrawal reaction.
Rescue medicine A medication used to control breakthrough pain.
Side effect An unwanted change produced by medication or other treatment, ranging from minor to serious.
Subcutaneous (SQ) injection Injection of medication just under the skin.
Titrate To adjust the dosage of medication necessary to control pain.
Tolerance The point at which a patient adapts to a specific drug, so that larger amounts of the present medication or a new medication is needed to achieve the same results.
Topical agent A medication that is applied to the skin rather than ingested or injected, usually a cream or a gel.
Visceral pain Pain, usually arising from the internal organs, that feels like squeezing, cramping, or pressure.
Withdrawal The physical or psychological state experienced when certain medications are discontinued rapidly.


See pages on causes of cancer pain, and on drugs used to control cancer pain.

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