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Pain in the learning disability population may be under-recognised and under-treated, especially in those with impaired capacity to communicate their pain.

Many people with a learning disability will be able to describe their pain. However some people particularly those with severe and profound learning disabilities may have difficulty verbalising their pain and therefore will use other means to communicate their pain.

These means of communicating pain can include:

• Increased agitation, fidgeting and repetitive movements
• Constant, frequent crying, or withdrawal
• Self injurious behaviour
• Tensing or body bracing to obtain posture to ease pain
• Increased sweating, heart rate or breathing
• Changes in eating/sleeping habits
• Changes in seizures – type and frequency
• Inappropriate laughing
• Other behaviours which may challenge staff

The above signs/symptoms are often incorrectly assumed to be mental health problems and investigation for a physical cause is not considered.

Last Updated: 06 February 2015