Chronic pain affects one in three people, reveals NUI Galway study

NUI Galway researchers have described chronic pain as a “silent epidemic” in this country, having found that one in three people suffer from the condition.

The finding is part of the preliminary results of the PRIME Study (Prevalence, Impact and Cost of Chronic Pain in Ireland ), being led by the university.

It is the first large-scale project to examine the problem of chronic pain in Ireland. To date, there has only been one study on chronic pain available which used market research methods. Its findings suggested that chronic pain affected 13 per cent of the Irish population. The PRIME team found that, among 1,200 randomly selected adults, a significant 35.5 per cent were suffering from chronic pain.

Principal investigator of the study, co-director of the centre for pain research and senior lecturer in psychology at NUI Galway Dr Brian McGuire explains chronic pain is pain that lasts for at least three months.

“One in three people in our study reported having chronic pain for an average of seven years - many of these people reported significant suffering, disability and reduced quality of life. In some ways, it could be regarded as a silent epidemic.”

The research found that there was no significant difference among men and women in rates of pain. However pain did increase with age with 28.2 per cent reporting pain in the 18-34 age group, increasing to 50 per cent of those aged 65 and over.

Dr McGuire also flagged the cost to society of chronic pain: “The high level of disability associated with chronic pain is costing the health system and society as a whole in Ireland. There is also a high level of psychological suffering. While some people cope very well and manage their pain, others really struggle to cope with it.”

Relating to the source of pain, the lower back (47.2 per cent ) was the most commonly cited. This was followed by the knee (30.4 per cent ), neck (29.7 per cent ) and shoulder (27.3 per cent ). However, many respondents had pain in multiple areas.

The study also compiled data regarding the cost of chronic pain and this report will be available shortly. Preliminary analysis points to a very significant cost to individuals and to the health system. The research team is also following up with participants to determine how many people still have pain one year later.

The PRIME research team includes Miriam Raftery, researcher at the centre for pain and research and school of psychology, NUI Galway; Andrew Murphy, professor of general practice, NUI Galway; Professor Charles Normand, health economist, TCD; Dr Davida de la Harpe, population health, HSE; and Dr Kiran Sarma, school of psychology, NUI Galway.

PRIME is funded in partnership by the Health Research Board and Health Service Executive.


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