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One-fifth of U.S. adults live with chronic pain, study estimates

About 20% of U.S. adults experience chronic pain, according to a new analysis. Photo by Whitesession/Pixabay
About 20% of U.S. adults experience chronic pain, according to a new analysis. Photo by Whitesession/Pixabay

April 20 (UPI) -- One in five adults in the United States lives with chronic pain, a study published Tuesday by the journal Pain found.

More than 50.2 million adults nationally report experiencing chronic pain due to a variety of health conditions that range from arthritis to fibromyalgia, the data showed.

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Collectively, these pain-causing conditions result in $300 billion in lost productivity each year because of missed workdays other effects on job performance, the researchers said.

"Chronic pain is a serious condition that affects millions of Americans," study co-author Dr. R. Jason Yong said in a press release.

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"We need all of the tools in our armamentarium to treat patients suffering from chronic pain," said Yong, medical director of the Pain Management Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Chronic pain has long been among the most common health problems in the United States, though estimates of its prevalence and impact have varied widely, according to Yong and his colleagues.

In 2019, the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, began questioning adults nationally about pain in its National Health Interview Survey.

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The survey is produced from an annual questionnaire and offers valuable insights into the health status of adults nationwide, Yong and his colleagues said.

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The researchers, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Mass Eye and Ear in Boston, used data from nearly 32,000 respondents to the survey to estimate the prevalence of chronic pain nationally.

Just over 20% of respondents to the survey reported experiencing chronic pain, reporting missing just over 10 workdays annually, compared to those without chronic pain, who missed just under three on average.

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These missed workdays result in nearly $80 billion in lost wages each year. Those with chronic pain also reported more limitations to participation in social activities and daily activities, the researchers said.

Back, hip, knee and foot pain were the most common sources of pain reported, and physical therapy and massage therapy were most commonly sought as treatments.

"Given the overall scale and impact of pain on Americans, we see that a multimodal, multidisciplinary approach to treating pain is even more important," Yong said.

"Pain medicine is relatively young as a field, and it encompasses specialties including emergency medicine, anesthesia, psychiatry, neurology, physiatry and radiology," he said.

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