CHICAGO More than a quarter of Americans have daily pain, a problem that costs the country more than $16 billion a year in pain remedies and about $60 billion a year in lost productivity, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.
Their random survey of U.S. citizens found pain was fairly evenly divided between men and women, but poorer Americans reported being in more pain than wealthier people.
"Those with lower income or less education spent a higher proportion of time in pain and reported higher average pain than did those with higher income or more education," Dr. Arthur Stone of Stony Brook University in New York and colleagues wrote in the journal Lancet.
Stone and Dr. Alan Krueger of Princeton University based their findings on a telephone survey of nearly 4,000 U.S. citizens. People in the survey provided pain ratings for three randomly selected periods during the day. They also gave information about what they were doing during those times.
The data were adjusted by the Gallup Organization to represent the entire U.S. population.
What they showed is that 29 percent of men and 27 percent of women reported feeling some pain during the sample times. People with lower income or less education spent more of their time in pain, and reported more severe pain.
The average pain rating increased with age. But it seemed to plateau between the ages of 45 and 75, before rising again.
People in households with yearly income of less than $30,000 reported twice the pain rating as people in households with incomes of more than $100,000, the researchers found.
And survey respondents with less than a high-school education had double the average pain rating as college graduates.
The researchers said their findings suggest that people with higher-paying office jobs have less pain than laborers.
"Such a disparity emphasizes the need for pain preventing measures such as better ergonomics and better availability of occupational health services for jobs with high physical strains," Dr. Juha Turunen of the University of Kuopio in Finland wrote in a commentary.
Krueger and Stone said pain is a major driver of health costs in the United States, accounting for $2.6 billion in spending on over-the-counter analgesics, and nearly $14 billion on outpatient prescription analgesics, based on 2004 data.
They cited prior studies that have shown pain cuts workforce participation, resulting in an estimated $60 billion a year in lost productivity.
The researchers said people in pain for a large portion of their day spend almost a quarter of their time watching television, compared to 16 percent for others. They also spent more time relaxing, and less time working and traveling.
"It is clear that people who reported fairly high pain in all sampled intervals spend their day differently than those who reported less or no pain," the researchers wrote.
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, Editing by Will Dunham and Eric Beech)