Survey results from a recent Gallup poll show four out of 10 (42 percent) American adults say they experience pain daily, with nearly all Americans (89 percent) saying they experience pain each month. Despite the prevalence of pain, only about half of those polled (51 percent) have visited a doctor in the past three years for their pain and nearly two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) see a doctor only when they cannot stand the pain any longer.
Spurred by these findings, the Arthritis Foundation together with the American Society on Aging, Business and Professional Women/USA, General Federation of Women’s Clubs, MANA, A National Latina Organization and the National Council of Negro Women launched Speaking of Pain, an educational program to empower people to help gain control of their pain by better communicating with their health care professionals about it.
“Arthritis and other types of pain significantly impact the lives of most Americans, but many aren’t comfortable taking the first step to find relief – talking to their doctor,” said Jack Klippel, M.D., medical director of the Arthritis Foundation. “Unlike a broken bone, pain cannot be identified by a medical test or x-ray, so these patient-doctor conversations are important in helping health care providers better understand and treat pain.”
Pain strikes all ages but older Americans suffer more, longer
The Gallup survey of 2,002 adults shows that pain strikes both the young and old alike, yet the frequency, severity and causes of pain change as people age. Americans aged 65 and older are more likely to experience pain than the younger generation, with three-fourths (75 percent) of older Americans suffering weekly pain compared to two-thirds (66 percent) of young Americans aged 18 to 34. Further, older Americans suffer pain longer – twice as long as younger Americans (for those in moderate or severe pain, 110 weeks compared to 49 weeks). The most commonly cited causes of pain among older Americans are getting older (88 percent) and arthritis (69 percent), a condition that affects more than 43 million Americans.
“As people age, conditions like arthritis cause pain that is more frequent and severe than the pain usually experienced in our youth,” said Dr. Klippel.
The impact of pain on women
The survey also found that pain takes a greater toll on women – affecting their lives at home and work. Women are more likely to experience pain daily than men are (46 percent versus 37 percent, respectively) and say that the demands of life at home and work contribute significantly to their pain. While one in three women (35 percent) cite the trials of balancing work and family life as a significant cause of their pain, only one in four men (24 percent) say the same.
“Frequent pain for women often is associated with both physical and emotional factors and can affect many aspects of their lives,” said Dr. Klippel.
Pain also disproportionately affects women in the workplace. While an estimated 36 million Americans missed work in the past year due to pain (27 percent of working adults), women are 50 percent more likely to have missed work because of pain than men (33 percent versus 22 percent, respectively).
Misconceptions about pain stop people from taking action
Despite the pervasiveness of pain, misconceptions about its cause and treatment often keep people from seeking medical attention for their pain. Most Americans resign themselves to accept pain, with 60 percent of respondents to the poll saying pain is “just something you have to live with.” Further, fewer than half of those with moderate or severe pain (43 percent) feel they have a “great deal of control” over their pain and more than one-quarter (28 percent) “don’t believe there is any real solution” for their pain.
“Pain is not a natural part of growing older and is not simply a ‘fact of life,'” said Dr. Klippel. “There are things people can do to reduce their aches and pains. By talking to a health care provider about their pain, people can start taking control of their lives by controlling their pain. This is a powerful message on the importance of patient empowerment.”
Editor’s note: The Gallup survey results are based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 2,002 adults aged 18 and older, conducted by The Gallup Organization from May 21 – June 9, 1999. For results based on samples of this size, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects could be plus or minus 2 percentage points.
The Arthritis Foundation and partnering organizations are offering a free brochure, “Speaking of Pain: How to Talk with Your Doctor about Pain,” through the Foundation (1-800-283-7800) and through workshops across the country.