New Cases of Chronic Pain Surpass Those of Diabetes, Depression, and Hypertension

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

According to a national survey conducted from 2019 to 2020, new cases of chronic pain outnumbered new cases of several other common conditions, including diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure. In addition, survey results showed that nearly one-third of the participants with chronic pain said it persisted through the following year.  

Published in JAMA Network Open, the findings came from a new National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data analysis by researchers from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Seattle Children's Research Institute, and the University of Washington.

Previous research has indicated that about 18 percent of adults in the United States experience chronic pain, diagnosed when a patient experiences pain most days or every day for over three months. For this study, investigators sought to understand better how chronic pain changes over time, the yearly rates of new cases, and what recovery looks like. To do so, investigators analyzed data from the nationally representative NHIS 2019 to 2020 longitudinal cohort, including approximately 10,000 U.S. adults interviewed who were interviewed twice, one year apart.

Results showed that of the pain-free respondents in 2019, 6.3 percent reported chronic pain in 2020, an incidence of 52.4 cases per 1,000 persons per year (PY). In comparison, per 1,000 persons per year, there were 7.1 cases of diabetes, 15.9 cases of depression, and 45.3 cases of hypertension. In addition, investigators found that of those who reported that their pain was not chronic in 2019, 14.9 percent said they had chronic pain in 2020.

Respondents also reported high rates of chronic pain that substantially limit a person's life activities, known as high-impact pain. The analysis indicated that some people were able to recover from their chronic pain. Among those who reported chronic pain in 2019, 10.4 percent had fully recovered by 2020.

The analysis also suggested that people aged 50 or older were more likely to suffer from chronic pain than those aged 18 to 49. In addition, data indicated that people with a college degree were less likely to have chronic pain than those without one.

Incidence of chronic pain did not differ between races or sex; however, the study found that Asian Americans and those of Mexican ancestry were more likely to recover.

According to the study’s authors, these findings show a high disease burden of chronic pain in the U.S. and highlight the need for early intervention to prevent pain from becoming chronic.