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January 5, 2000

Pain, Suffering, and Meaning

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JAMA. 2000;283(1):114. doi:10.1001/jama.283.1.114-JMS0105-2-1

Every doctor who treats patients will confront their pain and suffering. Yet for each individual patient the experience of pain will be private and largely unique. This creates difficulty not only for the clinician but for anyone who tries to grasp the meaning of someone else's pain.

The sensory component of pain, the neuronal capacity to localize and identify noxious stimuli, is largely consistent both within an individual and between populations.1 But the meaning of pain becomes much more than the ability simply to localize or discern it. For the affective component of pain—the subjective sense of suffering that accompanies its perception—is multifactorial.