Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2016

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Chronic pain, one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care (1), has been linked to restrictions in mobility and daily activities (2,3), dependence on opioids (4), anxiety and depression (2), and poor perceived health or reduced quality of life (2,3).

Population-based estimates of chronic pain among U.S. adults range from 11% to 40% (5), with considerable population subgroup variation. As a result, the 2016 National Pain Strategy called for more precise prevalence estimates of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain (i.e., chronic pain that frequently limits life or work activities) to reliably establish the prevalence of chronic pain and aid in the development and implementation of population-wide pain interventions (5).

National estimates of high-impact chronic pain can help differentiate persons with limitations in major life domains, including work, social, recreational, and self-care activities from those who maintain normal life activities despite chronic pain, providing a better understanding of the population in need of pain services.

To estimate the prevalence of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain in the United States, CDC analyzed 2016 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data. An estimated 20.4% (50.0 million) of U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8.0% of U.S. adults (19.6 million) had high-impact chronic pain, with higher prevalences of both chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain reported among women, older adults, previously but not currently employed adults, adults living in poverty, adults with public health insurance, and rural residents. These findings could be used to target pain management interventions.

NHIS is a cross-sectional, in-person, household health survey of the civilian noninstitutionalized U.S. population, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).* Data from the 2016 Sample Adult Core for adults aged ≥18 years (33,028; response rate = 54.3%)† were analyzed. Information about pain was collected through responses to the following questions: “In the past six months, how often did you have pain? Would you say never, some days, most days, or every day?” and “Over the past six months, how often did pain limit your life or work activities? Would you say never, some days, most days, or every day?”

The prevalence of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain (both crude and age-adjusted, with 95% confidence intervals) were estimated for the U.S. adult population overall and by various sociodemographic characteristics.

In 2016, an estimated 20.4% of U.S. adults (50.0 million) had chronic pain and 8.0% of U.S. adults (19.6 million) had high-impact chronic pain (Table), with higher prevalence associated with advancing age. Age-adjusted prevalences of both chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain were significantly higher among women, adults who had worked previously but were not currently employed, adults living in or near poverty, and rural residents. In addition, the age-adjusted prevalences of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain were significantly lower among adults with at least a bachelor’s degree compared with all other education levels.

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