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One in five Aussies aged 45 and over experience chronic pain

23 May 2020
One in five Aussies aged 45 and over experience chronic pain News image

An estimated 1.6 million people in Australia aged 45 and over are living with persistent, ongoing pain, a new report reveals.

The report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) is based on 2015-16 figures that show an estimated one in five (19%) Australians aged 45 and over had chronic pain – with higher rates for women.

The report, Chronic pain in Australia, explores the latest national data on the proportion of people with chronic pain, as well as its impact, treatment and management.

“Chronic pain is ongoing and debilitating, and can impact a person’s ability to participate in work, daily activities, exercise, and access health care,” said AIHW spokesperson Ms Katherine Faulks.

“It lasts beyond the normal healing time after injury or illness and is experienced on most days of the week. It can result from injury, surgery, musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis, or other medical conditions such as cancer.”

According to the report, the rate of GP visits where chronic back pain or unspecific chronic pain were managed, increased by 67% between 2006-07 and 2015-16. This represents about 400,000 more encounters for both conditions.

In 2017-18 nearly 105,000 chronic pain suffers were admitted to hospital. Patients with chronic pain were more likely to have a longer stay in hospital compared to those without.

Mental health issues

“People with chronic pain are more likely than those without chronic pain to experience mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, sleep disturbance and fatigue,” Ms Faulks said.

“A person with chronic pain often has contact with a range of health professionals to assist in the management of their pain, including GPs, medical specialists, psychologists, physiotherapists and social workers,” she said.

And for people aged 45 and over, those with chronic pain are almost three times as likely to have been dispensed pain medication as those without chronic pain.

Pain medication includes opioids, migraine medication, and other analgesics.

Ms Faulks says measuring chronic pain is often difficult as it is a highly personal experience  and surveys rely on self-reporting by individuals.

Surveys and data collections examined in the report do not measure distinct types of pain but measure them collectively.

This makes it difficult to explore the different types of chronic pain experienced in Australia, Ms Faulks says.

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