Recent research from the University of Arizona Health Sciences, as reported in the journal PAIN, reveals that nearly 5% of U.S. adults grapple with the co-occurrence of chronic pain alongside symptoms of anxiety or depression, leading to limitations in daily functioning.

Previous studies have demonstrated a biological connection between chronic pain and symptoms of anxiety or depression. This study stands out as one of the few to investigate the national prevalence of this combination in adults. The findings emphasize that millions may be contending with symptoms that impede their work, daily activities, and social interactions.

Lead author Jennifer S. De La Rosa, PhD, who is also the director of strategy for the UArizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center (the study’s sponsor), noted, “The study’s findings highlight an underappreciated population and health care need — the interdependency between mental health and chronic pain.” She added that this research offers a promising avenue for interdisciplinary medical approaches to address the needs of these individuals.

The study, titled “Co-Occurrence of Chronic Pain and Anxiety/Depression Symptoms in U.S. Adults: Prevalence, Functional Impacts, and Opportunities,” discovered that approximately 12 million individuals, or 4.9% of the U.S. adult population, contend with both chronic pain and symptoms of anxiety or depression.

The research analyzed data from 31,997 participants in the National Health Interview Survey, considered the foremost source for chronic pain surveillance.

Those with chronic pain were nearly five times more likely to report symptoms of anxiety or depression compared to those without chronic pain. Furthermore, among U.S. adults with unrelieved anxiety or depression, the majority (55.6%) also suffer from chronic pain.

Moreover, the impact of concurrent symptoms of anxiety or depression and chronic pain had a more detrimental effect on daily activities than either condition alone. Nearly 70% of individuals with both sets of symptoms reported limitations at work, over 55% experienced difficulty participating in social activities, and almost 44% had trouble with errands.

Lead author De La Rosa expressed surprise at the extent of functional limitations, stating, “Across all domains of functional activity in life, we saw an enormous jump among people who are living with both conditions. These are people who are at a high risk for functional limitation, which will disturb their quality of life.”

Future studies might explore whether those receiving pain treatment are also receiving mental health care and whether that care leads to symptom relief.

Senior author Todd Vanderah, PhD, emphasized, “When someone is experiencing both chronic pain and anxiety or depression symptoms, achieving positive health outcomes can become more challenging.” He sees this study as providing another avenue to explore in the ongoing effort to find new ways to treat chronic pain.

Additional contributors from the UArizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center include Associate Director of Medical Affairs Mohab M. Ibrahim, PhD, MD; Assistant Director of Operations Alyssa R. Padilla, MPH; and Benjamin R. Brady, DrPH. Co-authors also include Katherine E. Herder, MPH, a doctoral student in the Zuckerman College of Public Health, and Jessica S. Wallace, a program evaluator in the Department of Family and Community Medicine in the College of Medicine — Tucson.


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