One in 10 U.S. adults suffers from daily or severe pain, survey shows

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published January 6, 2016

Key Takeaways

More than half of American adults—55.7%, or 126.1 million—had at least some pain in the previous 3 months. Of these, 25.3 million (11.2%) said they suffered from daily (chronic) pain and 23.4 million (10.3%) reported a lot of pain, according to a new study by National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), published in the August 2015 issue of The Journal of Pain.

The survey also reported that nearly 40 million adults (17.6%) experience severe or very severe levels of pain. These individuals were likely to have worse health status, to use more health care, and to suffer from more disability than those with less severe pain.

“The number of people who suffer from severe and lasting pain is striking,” said Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director of NCCIH. “This analysis adds valuable new scope to our understanding of pain and could inform the National Pain Strategy in the areas of population research and disparities. It may help shape future research, development, and targeting of effective pain interventions, including complementary health approaches.”

The study results are based on data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an annual study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that surveys tens of thousands of Americans about their overall health and illnesses. The 2012 NHIS asked participants about the frequency and intensity of pain experienced in the prior 3 months. The survey results are based on combined data from 8,781 American adults from a subsection of the larger NHIS.

Although other epidemiologic studies assessed chronic and severe pain, this may be the first study to incorporate the interactions of race, ethnicity, and language preference in relation to pain severity. The results showed:

  • There were associations between pain severity and race, ethnicity, language preference, gender, and age.
  • Women, older individuals, and non-Hispanics were more likely to report any pain, while Asians were less likely.
  • Minorities who did not choose to be interviewed in English are markedly less likely to report pain.The impact of gender on pain varies by race and ethnicity.

“This report begins to answer calls for better national data on the nature and extent of the pain problem,” said author of the analysis Richard L. Nahin, PhD, MPH, lead epidemiologist for NCCIH. “The experience of pain is subjective. It’s not surprising then that the data show varied responses to pain even in those with similar levels of pain. Continuing analyses of these data may help identify subpopulations that would benefit from additional pain treatment options.”

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