In the United States, new cases of chronic pain occur more often than new cases of some other common health conditions, a new study has found. This pain is also persistent, lasting at least one year for most people. The findings underscore the need to diagnose and treat pain early, according to investigators with the National Institutes of Health

The data came from a new analysis of the National Health Interview Survey from 2019 to 2020. Among U.S. adults, investigators found that the rate of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain was approximately 21% and 8%, respectively. 

Furthermore, the incidence of new chronic pain was  52.4 cases per 1,000 persons per year, much higher when compared to other common chronic conditions, the researchers reported. There are 7.1 new cases of diabetes per 1,000 people per year, for example, and 45.3 cases of high blood pressure per 1,000 people per year.

In addition, the rate of recovery within one year was found to be low. Only about 10% of people who had chronic pain in 2019 reported being pain-free in 2020. 

Early intervention

“While the 10% of people who recover from chronic pain give us hope, we have an urgent scientific imperative to expand our tools to fight pain so we can restore many more to a pain-free life,” said Helene Langevin, MD, director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which took part in the study. “The onset of any chronic condition is a pivotal moment and early intervention can make a significant difference in the toll that the condition takes on the individual.”

The data included the first nationwide estimates of the incidence of new chronic pain and new high-impact chronic pain, the NIH said. Chronic pain was defined in the study as pain experienced most days or every day over the past three months. High-impact chronic pain was defined as pain that limits life or work activities on most days or every day during the past three months. 

Full findings were published in JAMA Network Open.

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