A recent survey conducted in the United States has shed light on the prevalence and persistence of chronic pain. The study, based on data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), found that new cases of chronic pain occurred more frequently than new cases of other common chronic conditions, such as diabetes, depression, and hypertension.
The survey, which provided the first nationwide estimates of chronic pain incidence, revealed that the rate of new chronic pain cases was 52.4 per 1,000 person-years. Incidence rates were higher than those for diabetes (7.1 cases/1,000 person-years), depression (15.9 cases), and hypertension (45.3 cases). Moreover, the study found that chronic pain was not a fleeting issue, as nearly two-thirds (61.4%) of adults who experienced chronic pain in 2019 continued to have it in 2020.
The NHIS data showed that approximately 21% of adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain, affecting an estimated 51.6 million individuals. Among them, 17.1 million people experienced high-impact chronic pain, which severely restricts daily activities.
Richard Nahin, MPH, PhD, of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), emphasized the significance of understanding the incidence of chronic pain and its progression over time. He called for increased use of multimodal and multidisciplinary interventions that can alter the course of pain and improve outcomes for individuals.
The study analyzed responses from 10,415 adults who participated in both the 2019 and 2020 surveys. Persistent chronic pain is defined as pain that persists over two periods. Regardless of pain status in 2019, lower educational attainment and older age were associated with higher chronic pain rates in 2020.
Interestingly, the study also found that 10.4% of adults with chronic pain in 2019 had fully recovered by 2020, experiencing a pain-free state. This finding aligns with previous evidence from studies conducted in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the U.K., which reported improvement rates ranging from 5.4% to 8.7%.
It is important to note that the study did not delve into the underlying causes of pain, and the survey data was collected only twice across a two-year follow-up period. The researchers acknowledged that individuals experiencing new or persistent chronic pain might have been less likely to participate in the 2020 follow-up survey, potentially leading to an underestimation of the rates.
As chronic pain continues to affect a significant portion of the population, understanding its incidence and long-term patterns can inform the development of effective strategies for pain management and enhance the quality of life for those affected.