Chronic Pain a ‘Silent Epidemic’ in UK

By Pat Anson, Editor

Nearly half of adults in the UK – nearly 28 million people – suffer from chronic pain, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal  that estimates about one in seven Britons have pain so severe it is disabling.

“Pain is really under-represented in terms of the public awareness of it,” lead author Alan Fayaz of Imperial College London said in The Guardian. “Nobody ever talks about chronic pain, it is like a silent epidemic.”

Fayaz and his colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 19 studies involving nearly 140,000 people in the UK. Data from the studies was combined to arrive at the estimate that 43% of adults suffer from chronic pain – defined as pain that lasts for three months or more.

That estimate is over three times higher than a previous telephone survey study that found 7.8 million Britons have moderate to severe chronic pain.

About 8% of UK adults experience chronic neuropathic pain and 5.5% have fibromyalgia. Women are more likely to experience chronic pain than men.

Chronic pain was found to be a common experience among all age groups, including young adults, but increases steadily with age. Nearly two-thirds of adults over age 75 have chronic pain, according to one of the studies reviewed.

 “Bearing in mind that we are, in general an ageing population, that’s of concern because what you would then expect would be if you repeated this study in about 10 years time, the prevalence of chronic pain would be higher,” said Fayaz.

 “What I would really like is for us to have better tools in order for us to identify those people who are most severely affected and how we can help them, what their care needs are.”

The prevalence of chronic pain in the UK is similar to that in the United States, where the Institute of Medicine estimated that 40% of American adults – about 100 million people – have chronic pain.