The National Institutes of Health recently funded one of the largest studies on pain, and the results are that as many as 25 million Americans experience pain on a daily basis, and 40 million have severe pain.
But doctors and researchers acknowledge that pain is difficult to treat, because it doesn’t encompass merely physical pain; emotional and cognitive pain are factors that can’t be soothed easily by medication.
Kaiser Health News [KHN] reports that people who suffer from chronic and severe pain “were more likely to have worse health status, use more health care and suffer from more disability than those with less severe pain.”
Richard Nahin, lead author of the NIH analysis, told KHN, “There are so many people in the severe pain category that something has to be done … If people are in the most severe category of pain, whatever treatment they are getting may be inadequate.”
Part of this may be because pain treatment isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some patients may be fine on medication, but others, like Paul Gileno, the founder of the U.S. Pain Foundation, might need combinations of other therapies, like acupuncture, meditation or diet changes.
Even then, physicians and pharmacists are increasingly monitored when prescribing opiate painkillers. KHN points out that painkiller abuse and the war on drugs has made it more difficult for legitimate sufferers to get the drugs they need.
Additionally, treatment for other health problems, like cancer, can cause nerve damage and lead to pain for survivors, according to KHN’s analysis.
The study also looked at pain across age and ethnic groups. The NIH reports that Asian and Hispanic populations are less likely to state they have pain.
Whether minorities are not reporting pain because of language barriers or because their pain is less serious isn’t clear.
Untreated pain has huge economic costs for the patients in need of expensive health care and for the caregivers who take care of people unable to work, according to KHN.
The NIH is working on an interagency National Pain Strategy to use the new data to better study and manage pain.