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NIH Report: Pain in the U.S.

Agency examines prevalence, severity, and duration of pain

According to a new analysis of data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an estimated 25.3 million adults (11.2% of the U.S. population) had pain every day for the preceding 3 months, and nearly 40 million adults (17.6%) experience severe levels of pain. Those with severe pain are also likely to have a worse health status.

The analysis was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and was published in the Journal of Pain.

“The number of people who suffer from severe and lasting pain is striking,” said Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director of the NCCIH. “This analysis adds valuable new scope to our understanding of pain and could inform the National Pain Strategy in the areas of population research and disparities. It may help shape future research, development, and targeting of effective pain interventions, including complementary health approaches.”

Pain is one of the leading reasons Americans turn to complementary health approaches, such as yoga, massage, and meditation — which may help manage pain and other symptoms that are not consistently addressed by prescription drugs and other conventional treatments. For this reason, NCCIH research priorities include the study of complementary approaches to determine their effectiveness for treating symptoms such as pain.

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 frequency and intensity of pain experienced during the prior 3 months. The survey results were based on combined data from 8,781 American adults from a subsection of the larger NHIS.

Among the findings of the analysis:


  • An estimated 23.4 million adults (10.3%) experience “a lot of pain.”

  • An estimated 126 million adults (55.7%) reported some type of pain during the 3 months prior to the survey.

  • Adults in the two most-severe pain groups were likely to have a worse health status, to use more health care, and to experience more disability than those with less-severe pain. However, approximately half of individuals with the most-severe pain still rated their overall health as good or better.

  • There were associations among pain severity and race, ethnicity, language preference, gender, and age. Women, older individuals, and non-Hispanics were more likely to report pain, while Asians were less likely.

  • Minorities who did not choose to be interviewed in English were markedly less likely to report pain.

  • The impact of gender on pain varied by race and ethnicity.

Source: NIH; August 11, 2015.

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