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Study: Chronic or Severe Pain Common in U.S. Adults

Chronic PainChronic pain refers to any pain that persists or progresses over a long period of time – often for 3 months or even longer. Chronic pain can be debilitating and significantly affect the quality of life and overall wellbeing. The pain could be due to various medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, headache, cancer, and sciatica. The extent of pain can be mild or agonizing, intermittent or continuous, just troublesome or totally incapacitating. It can disrupt sleep patterns, increase irritability and affect both memory and cognitive function in older adults.

A new study by National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that nearly 50 million American adults suffer chronic pain or severe pain.

The annual National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) covers thousands of Americans and evaluates their overall health and illnesses. Based on data from the 2012 NHIS, the NCCIH study estimated that within a previous three-month period, about 25 million US adults suffered daily chronic pain and 23 million adults reported severe pain. It was found that those with serious pain required and used more health services and suffered greater disability than persons with less severe pain.

Participants were asked about the frequency and intensity of pain they experienced during the last three months. The study found that:

  • About half of individuals with most severe pain still rated their overall health as good or better.
  • There was an association between pain severity and race, ethnicity, language preference, gender, and age.
  • Women, older individuals and non-Hispanics were more likely to report any pain, but Asians were less likely to do so.
  • The impact of gender on pain is influenced by race and ethnicity.

The results highlight the need for better national data on the nature and extent of pain problem. The intensity of pain is subjective and may vary from one person to another. The study identifies the need to develop new pain treatments and to help make currently used pain medications safer and more effective. As the data show that the responses of pain vary even among those with identical levels of pain, the researchers conclude that ongoing evaluation of the data could help identify sub populations that would gain from additional pain management options.

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