The growing epidemic of chronic pain in the U.S.

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According to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), new cases of chronic pain are becoming more prevalent among U.S. adults than new cases of numerous other common conditions such as diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure.

Among those with chronic pain, nearly two-thirds continue to suffer from it a year later.

The research findings come from an analysis of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data by investigators from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the NIH, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and the University of Washington, Seattle.

The study was recently published in JAMA Network Open.

Understanding the Incidence of Chronic Pain

“Understanding the incidence of chronic pain, in addition to its overall prevalence, is critical to understanding how chronic pain manifests and evolves over time,” said lead author Richard Nahin, Ph.D., lead epidemiologist at NCCIH.

“These data on pain progression emphasize the need for increased use of multimodal, multidisciplinary interventions to change the course of pain and improve outcomes for people.”

The study found that the rate of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain (HICP) among adults is approximately 21% and 8%, respectively.

Chronic pain is defined as pain experienced on most days or every day in the past three months, and HICP is pain that limits life or work activities on most days or every day during the past three months.

Key Findings from the Study

The research team compared the experiences of survey participants in 2020 to their baseline status in 2019. Here are some of the key findings:

The incidence of new chronic pain cases was high, with 52.4 cases per 1,000 persons per year. This is in comparison to other common chronic conditions such as diabetes (7.1 cases/1,000 per year), depression (15.9 cases/1,000 per year), and hypertension (45.3 cases/1,000 per year).

Of those who had reported non-chronic pain in 2019, about 1 in 6 (14.9%) reported having chronic pain in 2020, highlighting the importance of early management of pain.

Chronic pain is highly persistent, with almost two-thirds (61.4%) of those who reported chronic pain in 2019 still reporting chronic pain a year later.

Chronic pain developed into HICP at a rate of 190 cases/1,000 per year, and 361 cases/1,000 per year of people who initially reported HICP were still suffering a year later.

About 1 in 10 (10.4%) of people with chronic pain in 2019 recovered and were pain-free in 2020.

Given the widespread burden of chronic pain and its connection to the country’s opioid epidemic, there is an urgent need to understand and address the issue of pain.

A Call for More Research and Treatment Options

Helene M. Langevin, M.D., director of NCCIH, notes, “This study doesn’t just demonstrate the terrible burden of pain in this country.

While 10% of people who recover from chronic pain give us hope, we have an urgent scientific imperative to expand our tools to fight pain so we can restore many more to a pain-free life.”

She adds that the onset of any chronic condition is a pivotal moment, and early intervention can make a significant difference in the toll the condition takes on the individual.

As chronic pain becomes a growing issue in the U.S., more resources must be devoted to finding effective treatment options and to understanding the underlying mechanisms causing such pain.

With almost two-thirds of people suffering from chronic pain still experiencing it a year later, it is clear that current treatment options need to be reevaluated and expanded.

Early intervention and management of pain may also be key to preventing the development of chronic pain.

If you care about chronic pain, please read studies that drinking electrolytes, not water, may help reduce muscle pain, and this pain reliever may increase your risk of hip fracture.

For more information about wellness, please see recent studies that Krill oil could improve muscle health in older people, and eating yogurt linked to lower frailty in older people.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

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