Who’s In Pain In America? (Answer: A Lot Of Us)

This article, originally entitled “Chronic pain a hurdle for many, especially women, seniors, obese,” appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle on Nov. 12, 2014.

Americans take 80 percent of the painkillers used in the world, though only 28 per cent of respondents in a recent survey said drugs completely kill their pain. (Photo: Thomas Levinson / The Chronicle)
Americans take 80 percent of the painkillers used in the world, though only 28 per cent of respondents in a recent survey said drugs completely kill their pain. (Photo: Thomas Levinson / The Chronicle)

Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults reports living with chronic pain, and the rates are even higher for women, seniors and those who are obese.

These are the findings of a new Washington State University study that examined national health survey results of almost 90,000 Americans.

The researchers defined chronic pain as constant or frequent and lasting at least three months.

A little less than half of patients with arthritis, kidney failure or heart disease said they had chronic pain.

Nearly 60 percent of patients with emphysema-related pain said they did, and roughly a third of migraine suffers and those with cancer-related pain said it was chronic.

Chronic pain was also frequent among adults who reported depression, those with physical disabilities, and those who had been hospitalized one or more times in the previous year.

Although neck and lower back pain are among the most common reasons adults visit the doctor, only 49 percent and 42 percent of these patients, respectively, classified their pain as chronic.

Researchers, who published their study in the Journal of Pain, found more than two-thirds of patients who reported chronic discomfort said it was “constantly present,” and only 28 percent said “medication can take away my pain completely.”

Other studies show that Americans lead the world in use of painkillers, such as Vicodin.

Here are the numbers:

19% —  The percentage of American adults who report having chronic pain, defined as constant or frequent pain that persists at least three months. This equates to 39 million people.

29.6%  —  The percentage of Americans ages 60 to 69 who said they have chronic pain, making this the age group most likely to be in discomfort. About 8 percent of those 18 to 29 years old live with chronic pain, and the rate rises with age until dropping slightly after age 69.

21.6%  —  The percentage of women who said they had chronic pain, compared with 16.2 percent of men.

25.3%  — The percentage of people whose body mass index classified them as obese who reported chronic pain. The rate was 18.2 percent for people labeled overweight and 14.6 for those of healthy weight.

80% — The percentage of the narcotic painkillers used in the world that are taken by Americans, according to a 2011 report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, a market research group. Americans take 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone, the painkilling ingredient in Vicodin.