Heritability of chronic pain in 2195 extended families

Eur J Pain. 2012 Aug;16(7):1053-63. doi: 10.1002/j.1532-2149.2011.00095.x. Epub 2012 Jan 26.


Chronic pain is pathological, persisting beyond normal tissue healing time. Previous work has suggested ∼50% variation in chronic pain development is heritable. No data are currently available on the heritability of pain categorized using the Chronic Pain Grade (CPG). Furthermore, few existing studies have accounted for potential confounders that may themselves be under genetic control or indeed 'heritable' non-genetic traits. This study aimed to determine the relative contributions of genetic, measured and shared environmental and lifestyle factors to chronic pain. Chronic pain status was determined and CPG measured in participants from Generation Scotland: the Scottish Family Health Study, a large cohort of well-characterized, extended families from throughout Scotland, UK. Heritability estimates (h (2) ) for 'any chronic pain' and 'severe' chronic pain (CPG 3 or 4) were generated using SOLAR software, with and without adjustment for shared household effects and measured covariates age, body mass index, gender, household income, occupation and physical activity. Data were available for 7644 individuals in 2195 extended families. Without adjustment, h (2) for 'any chronic pain' was 29% [standard errors (SE) 6%; p < 0.001], and for 'severe' chronic pain was 44% (SE 3%; p <0.001). After adjustment, 'any chronic pain' h(2) = 16% (SE 7%; p = 0.02) and 'severe' chronic pain h(2) = 30% (SE 13%; p = 0.007). Co-heritability of both traits was 11% (SE 76%). This study supports the use of chronic pain as a phenotype in genetic studies, with adequate correction for confounders to specifically identify genetic risk factors for chronic pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Pain / diagnosis
  • Chronic Pain / genetics*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Phenotype
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Whites / genetics*