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Stanford University School of Medicine

Pain hits poor, less educated Americans much harder, new study finds

r6yzhthu-nu-julian-santa-anaResearchers have known that people who are poorer and less educated experience more chronic pain. But a new analysis shows that gap is even bigger than previously thought. In fact, according to a study that appears now in Pain, those who didn't finish high school are 370 percent more likely to experience severe ongoing pain than those with graduate degrees.

"[I]f 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, a medical sociologist at the University at Buffalo, in a recent news release.

Grol-Prokopczyk examined 12 years of data from the Health and Retirement Study, a biennial survey of nearly 20,000 Americans that is sponsored by the National Institute of Aging. Her research tracked data from the same subjects — excluding cancer patients — over that time period.

Her work also found that chronic pain levels are rising over time, "meaning people who were in their 60s in 2010 reported more pain than people who were in their 60s in 1998," the release explains. And that poses challenges for doctors and society, she said:

In part, this study should be a reminder that many people are legitimately suffering from pain. Health care providers shouldn’t assume that someone who shows up in their office complaining of pain is just trying to get an opioid prescription.


We don’t have particularly good treatments for chronic pain. If opioids are to some extent being taken off the table, it becomes even more important to find other ways of addressing this big public health problem.

Previously: Shifting the focus from opioids to life beyond pain: A Q&A with pain expert Beth Darnall, Chronic pain is correlated with major depression — for sufferer and spouse, study finds and "People are looking for better answers": A conversation about chronic pain
Photo by Julian Santa Ana

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