Trouble Coping with Pain

Suicide rates higher in people with long term non cancerous pain conditions

(RxWiki News) Past research has shown the risk for suicide to be higher in people with mental health disorders. Now, it seems the risk for suicide may be found in people with long-term pain as well.

A recent study looked at the rates of suicide in a large group of people that had been treated for long-term, non-cancer-related pain conditions.

The results showed that people with back pain, migraines and physical pain from grief or rejection were at higher risk for suicide than people without pain conditions.

"Ask to see a pain specialist if needed."

Mark A. Ilgen, PhD, from the Veterans Affairs Serious Mental Illness Treatment Resource and Evaluation Center in Ann Arbor, MI, led research into the risk of suicide in patients with non-cancerous pain conditions.

According to the authors, while suicide has mostly been linked to psychiatric disorders in previous studies, recent studies have begun investigating the risk of suicide in people with long-term physical pain.

For this study, the researchers followed all 4,863,086 people that had received medical services through the Veterans Health Administration in 2005 for three years.

The researchers specifically looked at patients who had died from suicide and who also had been diagnosed with one of the following long-term conditions: arthritis, back pain, migraine, headaches, fibromyalgia, nerve pain and physical pain from a major life event, such as grief or rejection.

At the three-year mark, a total of 4,823 people from the original group had died from suicide, 2,838 of whom had a long-term pain condition.

The researchers also accounted for any diagnoses for mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Overall, 47 percent of the entire group did not have a long-term pain condition, 33 percent had only one pain condition and 20 percent had at least two pain conditions.

Arthritis was the most common pain-related condition among the patients, with 43 percent of the group having an arthritis diagnosis. The second most common diagnosis, at 23 percent of the group, was back pain.

When the researchers did not factor in mental health conditions, patients with arthritis were 8 percent more likely to commit suicide than patients without arthritis.

And back pain patients were 33 percent more likely to commit suicide than patients without back pain.

When the researchers factored in mental health conditions, having arthritis did not increase the odds of committing suicide, but patients with back pain were 13 percent more likely to commit suicide compared to patients without back pain.

Without considering mental health conditions, patients with migraines were 68 percent more likely to commit suicide. But when the researchers considered mental health conditions, patients with migraines were 34 percent more likely to commit suicide than patients without migraines.

After taking mental health conditions into account, the researchers found that patients with nerve pain were only 1 percent more likely to commit suicide and patients with headaches were only 7 percent more likely to commit suicide than patients without either of those conditions.

Finally, after making adjustments for mental health conditions, patients with physical pain from major life events were 58 percent more likely to commit suicide than patients without a long-term pain condition.

Only 0.4 percent of the patients had this type of long-term physical pain and 96 percent of those patients also had at least one other pain condition.

The study authors concluded that healthcare providers should be aware of suicide risk in people with non-cancer-related long-term pain conditions, especially back pain, migraines and physical pain related to grief and rejection.

This study was published in May in JAMA Psychiatry.

The Veterans Health Administration provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

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Review Date: 
May 22, 2013