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11% of Americans experience pain daily, NIH analysis shows

11% of Americans experience pain daily, NIH analysis shows
Women, older individuals, and non-Hispanics were more likely to report any pain, while Asians were less likely.

We are a nation in pain.

According to a new analysis by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an estimated 55.7 percent of American adults — 126 million people — report having experienced some type of physical pain in the previous three months.

Some 23.4 million say they have endured “a lot” of pain, and 25.3 million — 11.2 percent of all American adults — say the pain occurs daily.

The analysis, funded by NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and published Tuesday in the Journal of Pain, is based on the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. This government-run survey has been annually collecting data from Americans on a variety of health topics for more than 50 years.

“The number of people who suffer from severe and lasting pain is striking,” said NCCIH Director Dr. Josephine P. Briggs in a media statement released with the analysis.

Other key findings from the analysis include the following:

  • Adults in the two most severe pain groups were likely to have worse health status, use more health care, and suffer from more disability than those with less severe pain. However, approximately half of individuals with the most severe pain still rated their overall health as good or better.
  • 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.

A cause of opioids abuse

The findings help explain one of the most troubling — and deadly — health trends of the past decade: the epidemic of people addicted to prescription pain medications (opioids).

Abuse of these drugs — which include oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and morphine — claims more than 16,000 lives from overdoses each year in the United States.

The prescription opioids epidemic is also a major contributor to the recent and highly troubling rise in heroin addiction. When people who become addicted to prescription painkillers can no longer get access to — or afford — those drugs, they sometimes turn to heroin.

More than 8,200 people died of heroin overdoses in 2013, double the number just two years earlier, in 2011, according to a report released in July by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Estimates of Pain Prevalence and Severity in Adults:

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Citation: Nahin RL. Estimates of pain prevalence and severity in adults: United States, 2012. Journal of Pain. 2015;16(8):769-780.

Seeking other approaches

Pain is also a major reason so many Americans turn to so-called complementary medical practices, such as yoga, massage, dietary supplements and homeopathy — often without telling their doctors.

Unfortunately, the scientific evidence to support these alternative methods for the alleviation of chronic pain is weak or nonexistent (or downright ridiculous, as is the case with homeopathy). NCCIH states as much on its website.

And although these approaches tend, in general, not be harmful, they are not without risk — as NCCIH also points out.

NIH is currently funding research to better understand the neurobiological mechanisms of pain — and to try to find safe and effective approaches for its treatments. These latest statistics underscore the importance of that research.

You can read about the report at the NCCIH website.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 08/12/2015 - 11:46 am.

    Does it matter . . .

    Does the cause of the pain matter for any of these assessments? Such as, for example, headache pain v.s. intestinal pain v.s. joint pain v.s. post-injury pain and so on. Some people with chronic painful conditions take the attitude that “It’s just something I have to live with” and may self report on their wellbeing in a substantially different way than those who are experiencing pain due to a transitory event such as disease, injury, or surgery.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 08/13/2015 - 08:36 am.

    Collateral Pain Effects

    Those with chronic pain do have varying thresholds and attitudes with respect to their pain levels. This article is correct in noting the individual issues of pain. As single sufferers, we can adjust our lifestyles and attitudes to some degree in order to “live with pain;” however, those around us are too often the collateral casualties of that chronic pain syndrome. Spouses, children, co-workers (certainly employers) all become included on one’s own pain loop, if you will. Given that certainty, the NIH quantitative findings can be easily extended in a linear function to include many more millions of victims.

    Given that all statistical findings are inherently generalized, then so are prescriptive remedies. The FDA trials for all new drugs are mainly specific only as to malady, perhaps categorized to dosage, but not individualized for relief. That vital fact of therapy is perhaps lost in today’s ten-minute medical mods.
    Opiates certainly are most effective of all conventional options. Yes, they can be dangerous if not used rationally. Body weight, metabolism rate, specific tolerance and other individual patient issues must be factored. That’s very difficult in today’s required medical model.

    In the end, each of us must manage our own pain for our own health and the well being of those within our pain circles, if you will. As a society, we have become reasonably aware of co-dependents of alcohol abuse and serious mental health maladies. We must elevate our social awareness of chronic pain, and acute pain in some cases. Significant long-term pain may not be a silent killer, but certainly is a clear threat to social relationships at many levels.

    Now in my 48th year of degenerative Crohn’s Disease, chronic pain is a long-term matter of never living well, just sometimes better, sometimes not. Any individualized focus on pain issues must be welcomed, even if it begins with broad studies and generalized findings. In the meantime, each of us does what works best for self and those near to us. No options should be denigrated or dismissed.

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