New Chronic Pain Cases Now Outnumber Diabetes, Depression in U.S.: Report

Chronic pain is now being diagnosed at a rate that outpaces other chronic conditions, according to a National Institute of Health study

Getty Images Chronic Pain
Getty Images Chronic Pain

New cases of chronic pain have skyrocketed in the U.S., with a stunning one in five suffering from the condition, according to new research from the National Institute of Health.

That's about 20% of Americans who battle pain every day — a staggering number of new diagnoses that beats out other chronic illnesses like diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure, according to the NIH survey.

"We're talking about a major public health problem," Dr. Gregory Terman, a pain medicine specialist at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a co-author of the study, told The New York Times.

And while new cases of chronic pain are on the rise, two-thirds of those who are already struggling with the condition still report chronic pain a year later, the study found.

Part of the problem? The cause of chronic pain can be hard to pin down — and sometimes, doctors are unable to diagnose the cause at all.

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Getty Images Chronic Pain
Getty Images Chronic Pain

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"It's like a fire alarm going off, but there's no fire," Dr. Prasad Shirvalkar, Associate Professor of Anesthesia and Neurological Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times.

That was the case for Ilana Glazer, who opened up last year in an essay for Vogue about her battle with pelvic floor pain, which began in early childhood.

"I started experiencing pelvic pain at a very young age, which is four," the Tony Award-winning producer wrote. "That's when I remember first experiencing it, and it was chronic pain from ages four to 24."

Misdiagnosed by doctors for years, Glazer said the shame of one especially frustrating experience stuck with her.

"I remember being 15 years old and my mom and I sitting there and this doctor telling me that my problem was too problematic for him, and just feeling laughed at and so angry."

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The Mayo Clinic describes chronic pelvic floor pain for women as pain in the area between the hips and below the belly button that lasts for longer than six months.

The NIH study found that approximately 1 in 10 people with chronic pain recovered a year later — but chronic pain can intensify, developing into a condition known as High Impact Chronic Pain (HICP), which can limit the ability to work or perform daily activities.

And as the survey points out, "The links between the widespread burden of chronic pain and the country's opioid epidemic underscore the urgency to understand and address the issue of pain."

Singer Sia has spoken out about her struggle with addiction — and how her neurological disease, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, commonly known as EDS, causes her "chronic pain."

"Pain is demoralizing, and you're not alone," she wrote in a Twitter post about her disease.

If you're suffering from chronic pain, Shirvalkar tells The New York Times your first step should be to see your primary care physician — but if your symptoms don't resolve in six weeks, to seek out a pain-management specialist.

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