Prevalence of chronic pain: an overview

Ospina M, Harstall C
Record ID 32003000441
Authors' objectives: The aim of this report was to analyze and critically appraise the published evidence on the prevalence of chronic pain (CP) (not related to cancer) in the general population and primary care setting. A secondary objective was to summarize information on the characteristics of pain (ie level of severity and functional limitations) and the use of health services in the population of CP sufferers.
Authors' recommendations: Chronic pain (CP) is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage that persists beyond the expected time frame for healing or that occurs in disease processes in which healing may never occur 1. Standardized definitions and criteria to define chronic or severe pain are not available and diverse pain qualifiers have been proposed. Two systematic reviews about the prevalence of CP were identified but they did not provide a definite and reliable answer to the research question. Fourteen primary studies were systematically reviewed. CP prevalence estimates varied widely in studies that used the International Association for the Study of Pain definition of CP (weighted mean: 35.5%, range: 10.5% to 55.2%). In studies that used the criteria of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) to determine the prevalence of chronic widespread pain, variation was narrower (weighted mean: 11.8%, range: 10.1% to 13%). Lack of consensus about basic definitions and inconsistencies in measurement among the published studies on CP prevalence may explain these variations. It was not possible to quantitatively compare the findings. Based on proxy definitions of severity (intensity, level of functional limitations, and disability) provided by several studies, calculation of the prevalence of severe CP was done. Figures showed little variation in the study populations, ranging from 8% (in children) to approximately 11% (in adults). These estimates are similar to those reported in studies (10%-13%) using the ACR criteria to define chronic pain. Prospective epidemiological studies are needed to estimate the CP prevalence in Alberta (using a very clear case-definition and well-validated and reliable data collection tools). Some important questions should be addressed in these studies: numbers and characteristics of people with CP in Alberta (as well as site of pain, level of intensity, frequency, and quality of life) and the proportion of people in each category of pain based on level of severity). Estimation of the size and characteristics of the population affected by CP provides a basis for designing and providing therapeutic efforts toward those most likely to need and benefit from them.
Authors' methods: Systematic review
Project Status: Completed
Year Published: 2002
English language abstract: An English language summary is available
Publication Type: Not Assigned
Country: Canada
MeSH Terms
  • Chronic Disease
  • Pain
Organisation Name: Institute of Health Economics
Contact Address: 1200, 10405 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T5J 3N4. Tel: +1 780 448 4881; Fax: +1 780 448 0018;
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Copyright: <p>Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR)</p>
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