The illness uncertainty concept: a review

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2009 Apr;13(2):133-8. doi: 10.1007/s11916-009-0023-z.


Illness uncertainty is present for both acute and chronic illnesses and has been described in the literature as a cognitive stressor, a sense of loss of control, and a perceptual state of doubt that changes over time. Illness uncertainty is associated with poor adjustment, but often needs to be appraised as a threat to have its deleterious effect. In pain populations, illness uncertainty is related to heightened sensitivity to pain and reduced tolerance of painful stimuli. Illness uncertainty also has been related to maladaptive coping, higher psychological distress, and reduced quality of life. The illness uncertainty literature in relation to pain is somewhat limited but clearly suggests the potential negative impact on the perception of and adjustment to pain. Future research should examine specific predictors of illness uncertainty, how this construct changes over time, and what interventions may be effective in reducing illness uncertainty for individuals who experience pain conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude
  • Humans
  • Illness Behavior*
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / psychology*