Pain is More Painful in Poor Places

Chronic pain tougher to manage for young patients

(RxWiki News) When it comes to chronic pain, it's not just where you hurt that determines how bad your pain is. It's where you live, how old you are, and your race.

A new study finds that how chronic pain is experienced is influenced by external factors.

Young people who live in poor neighborhoods have a tough time managing chronic pain, and young black patients have a higher burden of pain no matter where they live, researchers found.

"Talk with your doctor about how your circumstances affect your treatment."

The study was led by Dr. Carmen R. Green, a pain medicine expert at the University of Michigan Health System. Her team combined US Census data with information collected from 3,730 patients between 18 and 49 years old at a pain center, using the McGill Pain Questionnaire scales.

116 million American adults experience some degree of chronic pain. The study's goal was to examine the role that race and socioeconomic status play in chronic pain. The researchers wanted to know if there was a difference between chronic pain in white and black patients.

The study described finding that for patients of both races, living in a poorer neighborhood was associated with “increased sensory, affective and other pain, pain-related disability and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.”

But the toll of chronic pain was heavier on young black patients no matter where they lived. They always reported more pain and disability than young white patients.

Dr. Green says that her study shows a health disparity in these populations. Young black patients have an “unequal burden of pain” among chronic pain sufferers.

People who are disadvantaged may have invisible barriers to get the help they need to manage their pain. Dr. Green recommended that doctors acknowledge their patient's external environment and circumstances when they have conversations about treatment.

This may help the patient adhere to the treatment, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the health care system, leading to better outcomes for all.

The paper was published in The Journal of Pain in late February 2012.

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Review Date: 
March 6, 2012