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New Analysis Adds to Understanding of Pain in America

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August 11, 2015
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

Director
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View Dr. Briggs' biographical sketch

We know from previous studies that many Americans are affected by chronic pain—about 100 million, according to the Institute of Medicine. Today, a new analysis of data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) appeared in The Journal of Pain and paints a striking picture of the number for whom pain is both frequent and severe. Estimates from the analysis are that 25.3 million adults (11.2 percent) experience daily pain—pain every day for the prior 3 months—and nearly 40 million adults (17.6 percent) experience severe levels of pain. Those with severe pain, not surprisingly, are also likely to have worse health status.

We also know that pain is one of the leading reasons Americans turn to complementary health approaches, and research on nondrug approaches for pain continues to be a priority for our Center. Pain is a major focus of NCCIH’s extramural and intramural research programs, and we also have a leadership role in the NIH Pain Consortium, which promotes collaboration among pain researchers across NIH. Last fall, we announced the funding of 13 grants exploring nondrug approaches to pain and related conditions in U.S. military service members and veterans—many of whom suffer from chronic pain and adverse outcomes from use of opioids.

The NHIS is an annual study in which tens of thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health- and illness-related experiences. The 2012 NHIS asked participants about the persistence and intensity of pain experienced in the prior 3 months, and survey questions allowed a graded assessment of pain severity, using methods developed and validated qualitatively by the Washington Group on Disability Statistics. The 2012 survey findings are based on combined data from 8,781 American adults.

This new analysis adds to our understanding of the prevalence and severity of pain in the United States and may help shape future research, and development and targeting of effective pain interventions, including complementary health approaches.

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