Epidemiology of chronic non-cancer pain in Europe: narrative review of prevalence, pain treatments and pain impact

Curr Med Res Opin. 2011 Feb;27(2):449-62. doi: 10.1185/03007995.2010.545813. Epub 2011 Jan 3.


Background: Estimates on the epidemiology of chronic non-cancer pain vary widely throughout Europe. It is unclear whether this variation reflects true population differences or methodological factors. Such epidemiological information supports European decision makers in allocating healthcare resources.

Objective: Pan-Europe epidemiological data about chronic non-cancer pain was obtained using systematic review principles in searching and summarising results.

Methods: Multiple databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, CRD Databases, and GIN) were systematically searched for primary studies containing epidemiological data on chronic non-cancer pain in Europe excluding studies that solely concerned migraines, headaches and pain associated with specific disease conditions. The studies were prioritised according to quality, recency and validity.

Main outcomes: Eighteen research questions concerning aspects of chronic pain included: prevalence; incidence; pain treatments, control and compliance; treatment satisfaction; and quality of life and economic impacts.

Results: The search yielded 16 619 references and 45 were relevant to Europe. Studies for each question were selected that provided the most recent, representative and valid data. There was a clear lack of studies concerning chronic non-cancer pain in Europe as a whole. The 1-month prevalence of moderate-to-severe non-cancer chronic pain was 19%. Chronic pain significantly impacted on patient-perceived health status, affected everyday activities including economic pursuits and personal relationships, and was significantly associated with depressive symptoms. The majority relied on drugs for pain control and NSAIDs were the most frequent drug choice. Despite pain medications, a large proportion had inadequate pain control.

Conclusion: To the authors' knowledge this is the most comprehensive literature review on epidemiological data in this field. It is clear that chronic pain has a dramatic impact on European society. Since chronic non-cancer pain is treated differently from cancer-related pain, the lack of data in this area clearly underlines the need for decision makers in healthcare to gather further epidemiological data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Analgesics / adverse effects
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Europe
  • Health Care Costs
  • Health Resources / economics
  • Health Resources / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Pain / complications*
  • Pain / economics
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Pain Management*
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life


  • Analgesics