Chapter 1: Medication types and uses

Breakthrough medications

It was tense – wanting to make sure I was giving the right medication at the right time for the right thing. It helped to write down what I was supposed to do when, and then to write down when I did it.

To treat a symptom such as pain, a healthcare provider will typically put a person on a pain medication schedule. The healthcare provider will also ensure the person has pain medication to use in case they experience a pain “flare-up” in between regular scheduled pain medication. The medication used in between is commonly referred to as  “breakthrough,” or “as needed” medication. The term “breakthrough” refers to the pain symptom that is breaking through between the person’s regular scheduled pain medication.

It’s very important to keep track of breakthrough medications using a pain diary or symptom diary. Click the arrows below to view questions that can be helpful with your diary entries.