Chronic Pain Now Affects 50 Million US Adults

Megan Brooks

September 19, 2018

Chronic pain affects about 50 million US adults — and "high-impact" chronic pain, which interferes with life or work activities, affects around 20 million, new federal data indicate.

"Pain is a component of many chronic conditions, and chronic pain is emerging as a health concern on its own, with negative consequences to individual persons, their families, and society as a whole," note the authors, led by James Dahlhamer, PhD, from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Their analysis of 2016 National Health Interview Survey data showed that 20.4% of US adults had chronic pain in 2016 and 8.0% had high-impact chronic pain. Both types of pain were more prevalent in women than men (20.8% vs 17.8% and 8.9% vs 7.0%, respectively).

Both types of chronic pain were also more prevalent among older adults, veterans, those previously but not currently employed, those living in poverty or rural areas, and those with public health insurance.

The study was published online September 14 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report — in time for Pain Awareness Month.

$560 Billion in Direct Costs

Chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain have been linked previously to restrictions in mobility and daily activities, dependence on opioids, anxiety, depression, and poor quality of life, the authors write.

Chronic pain contributes to an estimated $560 billion each year in direct medical costs, lost productivity, and disability programs, they note.

As reported by Medscape Medical News, the federal government's National Pain Strategy, released in the spring of 2016, marked the nation's first coordinated plan for reducing the burden of chronic pain.

The plan recognized the need for better data to inform action and called for better estimates of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain in the general population.

Dahlhamer and colleagues say their report "helps fulfill this objective and provides data to inform policymakers, clinicians, and researchers focused on pain care and prevention."

The study had no commercial funding. Dr Dahlhamer has reported no relevant financial relationships. One author has received honoraria for serving as a member of a research grant review board for the American Pain Society and serves as senior editor for the journal Pain Medicine. Another author has received grants from Pfizer Inc as an investigator of the use and misuse of opioids at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute and from inVentive as coinvestigator for US Food and Drug Administration–mandated postmarketing surveillance studies of extended-release opioids.

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67:1001-1006. Full text

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