NHIS Analysis Determines Most US Adults Experience Some Degree of Pain

NHIS Analysis Determines Most US Adults Experience Some Degree of Pain

A recent study published in the Journal of Pain based on the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) has determined that most adults in the United States have experienced some degree of pain, ranging from brief to more lasting, and from moderate-to-severe.

Results from the study showed that about 25.3 million adults (11.2%) had some degree of daily pain. Nearly 40 million adults (17.6%) experienced severe levels of pain, and these individuals were found to have a poor health status.

Results from the analysis funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), indicated a considerable burden of chronic pain in US adults.

“The number of people who suffer from severe and lasting pain is striking,” said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., 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.”

Chronic pain is a major health problem and one of the most frequent reasons for seeking medical care. Establishing the burden of chronic pain in a community is important to plan for appropriate health and social services, and requires accurate prevalence estimates. NCCIH research priorities include the study of complementary strategies to determine the effectiveness for treating symptoms such as pain.

Published point-prevalence estimates of chronic pain from population-based surveys vary widely, with worldwide estimates ranging from 2% to over 55% and 14.6 to 64% within the United States.

The CDC’s NHIS is an annual analysis that interviews Americans regarding their health- and illness-related experiences. The 8,781 American adults that participated in the 2012 survey were asked about the intensity and the frequency of pain they experienced in the 3 months prior to the questionnaire.

Pain severity was assessed in four categories, with CDC researchers working in the Washington Group on Disability Statistics developing this approach.

Results showed that:

  • An estimated 23.4 million adults (10.3%) experience a lot of pain.
  • An estimated 126 million adults (55.7%) experience pain in the 3 months preceding the survey.
  • In comparison to participants with less severe pain, those in the two most severe pain groups were likely to suffer from more disability, to use more health care, to have worse health status. Nevertheless, about half of the participants with the most severe pain said their overall health was better or as good.
  • The researchers found associations between the severity of pain and age, ethnicity, gender, race and language preference. Older participants, women, and participants from a non-Hispanic background were found more likely to have experienced any pain, while participants from an Asian background were less likely to have experienced any pain.
  • Participants from a minority background who did not choose to be interviewed in English were found less likely to report pain.
  • The impact of gender on pain varies according to ethnicity race.

“This report begins to answer calls for better national data on the nature and extent of the pain problem,” said Richard L. Nahin, Ph.D., M.P.H., lead epidemiologist for NCCIH and author of the analysis. “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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