Chronic pain, body mass index and cardiovascular disease risk factors: tests of moderation, unique and shared relationships in the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN)

J Behav Med. 2015 Apr;38(2):372-83. doi: 10.1007/s10865-014-9608-z. Epub 2014 Nov 27.


Chronic pain may be related to cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. The current study examined whether persistent bodily pain was related to cardiovascular disease risk factors, whether these effects were moderated by body mass index (BMI), and, if not, whether chronic pain accounted for unique variance in CVD risk factors. Participants were women (N = 2,135) in the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation. A high pain frequency variable (high pain in 0 through 4 assessments) was coded to reflect the frequency of high levels of bodily pain across the first 3 years of the study. Six CVD risk factors and BMI were measured at follow-up year 3. High pain frequency and BMI were correlated significantly with risk factors, although effects for the former were small. Hierarchical multiple regressions revealed high pain frequency × BMI interactions for 5 of 6 CVD risk factors. Dissecting the interactions revealed a similar pattern across 4 risk factors: for women with normal BMI, there was a "dose-response" in which increasing frequency of high pain revealed increasingly worse CVD risk factor levels, whereas for women with obese BMI, high pain frequency was unrelated to risk factors. For obese women, increasing frequency of high pain was associated with higher blood glucose. Although BMI is a well-established CVD risk factor, evaluation of CVD risk level may be improved by considering the incidence of persistent pain, particularly in normal weight women (BMI < 25 kg/m(2)) lower BMI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Glucose
  • Blood Pressure
  • Body Mass Index*
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Chronic Pain / blood*
  • Chronic Pain / complications
  • Female
  • Fibrinogen
  • Humans
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / blood
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / blood*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Risk Factors
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • Women's Health*


  • Blood Glucose
  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Triglycerides
  • Fibrinogen
  • C-Reactive Protein