Poor and less-educated older Americans more likely to suffer from chronic pain

Older Americans of lesser financial means and limited education are more likely to suffer from chronic pain, according to a new study published in the journal PAIN.

The study's findings are based on 12 years of data on more than 19,000 subjects ages 51 and older. The health data was collected from 1998 to 2010. Analysis of the data revealed people with the least education to be 80 percent more likely to experience chronic pain than people with the most. When assessing exclusively for severe pain, respondents who didn't finish high school were 370 percent more likely to experience severe chronic pain than individuals with graduate degrees.

"If you're looking at all pain — mild, moderate and severe combined — you do see a difference across socioeconomic groups. And other studies have shown that. But if you look at the most severe pain, which happens to be the pain most associated with disability and death, then the socioeconomically disadvantaged are much, much more likely to experience it," said study author Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo (N.Y.).

The study's results also suggest the burden of chronic pain on the U.S. population may be growing — people who were in their 60s in 2010 reported more pain than people who were in their 60s in 1998. Dr. Grol-Prokopczyk said it will be important to keep the increasing numbers of people living with pain in mind as the nation attempts to address opioid drug abuse.

"If we as a society decide that opioid analgesics are often too high risk as a treatment for chronic pain, then we need to invest in other effective treatments for chronic pain, and/or figure out how to prevent it in the first place," said Dr. Grol-Prokopczyk.

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