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A startling number of Americans are experiencing chronic, severe pain

How many people around you are experiencing pain on a daily basis? It’s more than you might think.

Data collected by U.S. National Institutes of Health during the 2012 National Health Interview Survey has revealed that a disturbing amount of Americans report experiencing some form of pain regularly, for some, it’s chronic and severe.

Nearly 9,000 people were surveyed based on an updated pain severity coding system. Participants were asked to report how many days they had experienced pain in the last three months to rate the level of severity.

Of course most people had experienced at least some from of pain in the three month period, but for some, what they reported was more more extreme. An estimated 25.3 million adults (11.2 percent) experienced pain every day during the allotted time, and nearly 40 million adults (17.6 percent) experience severe levels of pain.

The data analysis, published in the Journal of Pain revealed:

  • An estimated 23.4 million adults (10.3 percent) experience a lot of pain;
  • An estimated 126 million adults (55.7 percent) reported some type of pain in the three months prior to the survey;
  • 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;

Authors of the study indicated that alternative methods for treating pain, such as yoga, massage or meditation deserve more attention as ways to treat pain that prescription drugs and other treatments might not be sufficient for real relief.

“This report begins to answer calls for better national data on the nature and extent of the pain problem,” said study co-author Richard L. Nahin in the NIH summary. “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.”

Photo: Flickr user Leland Francisco