An epidemiological follow-up survey of persistent pain sufferers in a group family practice and specialty pain clinic
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The course and prognosis of persistent pain are largely unknown. In addition, follow-up studies of chronic pain sufferers have come from specialized pain clinics and have ignored the question of how representative this special group is to the general population who suffer persistent pain. Because health care planners are assumed to require these data for projection of health care needs, it is important to determine the course of persistent pain in those persistent pain sufferers in the general population as well as those referred to a specialty clinic. An epidemiological study compared 2 groups of self-reported persistent pain sufferers from a Family Practice Clinic and a Specialty Pain Clinic over a 2 year period. All subjects reporting a persistent problem with pain at the time of the initial survey were contacted 2 years later to determine whether the initial differences between the 2 groups remained constant over time and whether there were any changes within each group over time. Despite the similarities between the study groups on multiple socioeconomic and demographic variables, the Specialty Pain Clinic group remained distinctly different from the Family Practice pain sufferers on many pain behavior and emotional variables. Thirteen percent of the persistent pain sufferers from the Pain Clinic group and 36% of the persistent pain sufferers from the Family Practice group no longer reported pain as a problem at follow-up. Of those pain sufferers from either group who continued to experience pain at 2 years follow-up, their pain became more intermittent, psychological distress factors improved, and the use of health services decreased. The implications are that persistent pain does not necessarily continue forever and that persistent pain sufferers in the general population have a better prognosis than those who are referred to a Specialty Pain Clinic. All follow-up studies need to be interpreted in light of these findings.
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