Silent pain sufferers

Mayo Clin Proc. 2006 Feb;81(2):167-71. doi: 10.4065/81.2.167.


Objective: To evaluate the proportion and characteristics of patients with chronic pain who do not seek treatment and assess whether these patients have unmet pain care needs.

Patients and methods: We performed a cross-sectional survey of residents of Olmsted County, Minnesota, from March through June 2004, with additional visit and diagnosis data from the Rochester Epidemiology Project database. Study participants were a random, population-based sample of eligible adult (>30 years) residents of Olmsted County with at least 1 visit to a local health care facility in the past 3 years.

Results: Of the 5897 eligible participants, 3575 people (60.6%) responded. Of the respondents who reported pain of more than 3 months' duration, 497 (22.4%) of the 2211 patients stated that they had not informed their physician about their pain. Of these silent sufferers, 70.6% (351/497) reported having moderate or severe pain, 49.2% (243/497) reported having frequent pain (>8 days per month), and 40.6% (202/497) met both criteria. Silent sufferers also reported that pain interfered with their general activity and sleep to a level only slightly less than the chronic pain sufferers who reported discussing their pain with a physician. Silent sufferers made an average of 5.2 ambulatory physician visits per year, which was less than those who sought physician help for their pain (8.6 ambulatory visits per year; P < .001). Men and younger participants were more likely to be silent about their pain (P < .001).

Conclusion: More than 1 in 5 people with chronic pain did not seek physician care for their pain. This group is unknown to physicians and therefore represents an unreported patient group with an unmet need for pain care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Severity of Illness Index