Chronic Pain

Breakthrough Pain Medications and Coping Techniques

Source: WebMD
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Breakthrough pain is a sudden, temporary episode of intense pain that occurs in patients who have existing chronic pain. Breakthrough pain, also known as a flare-up, is not new pain. Flare-ups are seen in patients with conditions such as cancer, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, nerve pain, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, low back pain, diabetic neuropathy, shingles, and more.

Cause & Duration

Breakthrough pain can occur while exercising, using the bathroom, dressing, coughing, moving after surgery, or from a trigger that is unknown. The onset of a flare up can occur without warning and even when medicated. The peak of severe breakthrough pain can continue for 30 to 60 minutes. At times, patients experience “end-of-dose failure” which takes place when the opioid medication loses its effects earlier then the medication is intended to last.

Medications for Breakthrough Pain

For treating breakthrough pain, drugs that are fast-acting, easy to administer, and flexible to through the pain but not over extended period. 


Over-the-counter medication options commonly used to help manage flare-ups include: acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen and naproxen. 


Prescription options for breakthrough pain have been commonly prescribed for relief. Opioid options are oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine. Other common prescriptions are for morphine, fentanyl, and hydromorphone.

Managing your Flare without Drugs

Create a pain diary to log the onset, cause, and duration of your flare ups to discuss at your next appointment. By tracking treatments, medications, activity, sleep, and pain level, you may uncover useful insights to help better manage your symptoms. 


There are many options to manage your breakthrough pain, contact your healthcare provider to determine what works best to relieve your pain.