Prevalence of Persistent Pain in the U.S. Adult Population: New Data From the 2010 National Health Interview Survey


      • Estimates of chronic pain prevalence vary, depending the operational definition of “chronic.”
      • “Persistent pain” is a more consistent and precise way to measure health-related quality of life.
      • Persistent pain is operationally defined as constant or frequent pain lasting at least 3 months.
      • An estimated 39.4 million adults in the U.S. reported persistent pain in 2010.
      • This population clearly has unmet needs for pain management and is a public health priority.


      Published adult prevalence estimates of chronic pain in the United States vary significantly. A more consistent pain measure is needed to assess unmet need for pain management in the general population. In this study, secondary analyses of the 2010 Quality of Life Supplement of the National Health Interview Survey are used to calculate the point prevalence of “persistent pain,” which we defined as constant or frequent pain persisting for at least 3 months. Rates of persistent pain are also calculated by risk group, chronic condition, and disability status. Findings show that about 19.0% of adults in the United States report persistent pain. Rates of persistent pain are higher among women, adults aged 60 to 69, adults who rate their health as fair or poor, adults who are overweight or obese, and those who were hospitalized 1 or more times in the preceding year. Most adults who report conditions such as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or back or joint pain do not describe their pain as “persistent.” Of the estimated 39.4 million adults who report persistent pain, 67.2% say their pain is “constantly present,” and 50.5% say their pain is sometimes “unbearable and excruciating.”


      Persistent pain, defined as self-reported pain “every day” or “most days” in the preceding 3 months, is a useful way to characterize health-related quality of life in the general population, and policy makers should consider including this core measure in ongoing health surveys like the National Health Interview Survey and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the authors conclude.

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