The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Big Number: 50 million adults experience chronic pain

Placeholder while article actions load

Next time you are in a crowd, look around — 1 of every 5 adults you see could be living with chronic pain. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50 million American adults — 20.4 percent of the U.S. adult population — have chronic pain, defined as pain most days or every day for at least the past six months. Age and sex seem to make a difference, with a higher prevalence among older people and women. For 8 percent of those with chronic pain (19.6 million adults), the pain is bad enough to frequently limit their daily life or work activities. Although pain is the body’s normal reaction to injury, it should go away once the body heals. If that does not happen, or if the injury included nerve damage, the pain may persist for months or even years. Some diseases and infections can also lead to chronic pain, and sometimes no cause can be found.

No matter the cause, treatment for chronic pain usually focuses not on curing it but on managing it — reducing the pain and increasing peoples’ ability to move and function so their day-to-day life can improve. Treatment options include prescription pain medications, acupuncture, physical therapy, relaxation techniques, biofeedback, massage therapy, psychotherapy and behavior modification. Over-dependence on addictive pain relievers such as opioids, however, has contributed to an opioid crisis in the country. Having chronic pain can also lead to other health issues, including anxiety and depression. All told, according to estimates cited by the CDC, the bill in the United States for chronic pain totals at least $560 billion a year in medical expenses, lost productivity and disability programs. Data for the CDC report came from a 2016 national health survey, done by the National Center for Health Statistics.

— Linda Searing

Amid the opioid crisis, some seriously ill people risk losing drugs they depend on.

The Big Number: 1 in 3 college freshmen show signs of mental-health disorders