More than a quarter of all American suffer from chronic pain. Researchers say the problem is due to an increased life expectancy and a less active lifestyle among the general population.
Why Many Americans Are in Constant Pain
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:
We have an interesting story here tonight about pain in this country. You need only watch the commercials on this broadcast to know the pain reliever business is a big one. That's for good reason when you ask Americans about the pain they're in. Our report from our chief science correspondent Robert Bazell.
Unidentified Man: Just checking your reflexes here.
ROBERT BAZELL reporting:
More than a quarter of all Americans like Laura Devanie suffer pain.
Man: What about down here?
Ms. LAURA DEVANIE: That's OK.
BAZELL: Hers comes from rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments.
Ms. DEVANIE: I can't do everything that I'd like to do.
BAZELL: In a telephone survey, researchers found that at any one time 28.8 percent of men and 26.6 percent of women report they are in pain. The numbers are no surprise to Dr. Russell Portnoy, a pain specialist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.
Dr. RUSSELL PORTNOY: So it's probably thinner.
It just has to relate with our increasing life expectancy. The most common cause of pain is joint pain, and arthritis becomes increasingly common with age. Also people are living longer with diseases that are painful, like cancer and HIV/AIDS. In addition it may relate to lifestyle, more sedentary people, more obese people. All of these can contribute to chronic pain.
BAZELL: Americans spend $2.6 billion a year on over-the-counter pain medications and 13.8 billion on prescription pain drugs.
Why is it people are buying so many pain medications and there's so much pain?
Dr. PORTNOY: Well, I think that reflects a very important reality, and that is that we don't have the answer to this problem. Patients are buying medications and patients are being prescribed medications because they just don't get adequate relief with any one.
BAZELL: And pain keeps people out of the workplace. Economists estimate pain costs some $60 billion a year in lost productivity. Robert Bazell, NBC News, New York.
What is pain? It might seem like an easy question. The answer, however, depends on who you ask.