Persistent pain is one of modern medicine's more shameful shortfalls. An estimated 116 million Americans endure chronic pain, the most common cause of long-term disability, costing the United States at least $560-635 billion annually. The situation gets worse as we age: Today almost half of people over age 65 routinely live with pain.
"A disease in its own right"
Yet many persistent pain sufferers say their condition remains misunderstood and even stigmatized. The resulting care gap is serious enough that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently declared that we need a "transformation in how pain is perceived and judged both by people with pain and by the health care providers who help care for them."
Far from dismissing persistent pain as imagined, exaggerated or inevitable, the IOM report endorses the emerging view that, "because of the physiological and psychological changes that occur in people with chronic pain ... in many cases, chronic pain is a disease in its own right."