Counting the real cost of life with the King of Pain
Earlier this year, researchers crunched a lot of numbers to prove that chronic pain is a big problem in America. People often can’t work because of it and they spend lots of healthcare dollars trying to feel better.
The report did say that doctors need to do a better job understanding and treating chronic pain, and it’s always nice to hear that. However, much of the rest of the report was common knowledge for many people in the HealthCentral community.
We also did some research into chronic pain this year. In looking at the results, I knew that we needed to go beyond the basic numbers. I wanted to create a “report” that gave pain-free people an idea of what it’s like to live with ongoing pain.
Take a look at life with the King of Pain. Scroll down to see more detail about each topic and see if this reflects your experience.In addition to taking away relationships and hobbies, living with chronic pain also takes a real financial toll. Based on the survey results, I estimated the average cost of treating chronic pain as well as what else you could do with this amount of money.
One reason chronic pain takes such a toll is because it requires constant management and decision-making. 94% of respondents take prescription medications and 75% take OTC meds. The charts below show the details of what they take. These two quotes from people who took the survey reveal just as much about living with chronic pain.
“I’ve tried at least 4 of these and now just mostly grin and bear it with 2 Tramadols.”
“None – the meds I use just take off the edge of my pain…OTC wouldn’t begin to help.”
In the last few years, several painkillers have been taken off the market. When we asked people why they changed medications, many said because Darvocet was no longer available. Other comments revealed other challenges of taking pain meds.
“Lyrica was like a miracle drug, but I gained 40 pounds and it was too expensive.”
“I was having cognitive difficulties on Topamax, and lost my job.”
People who have been living with chronic pain for years have a lot of experience in dealing with doctors and making treatment choices. Their comments throughout our survey show that they use their expertise to help other people coping with pain and to stay informed about new treatment options.
If you’re interested in how we did this research, read on.
We surveyed subscribers to our chronic pain newsletter in August. 712 people completed the survey. There is a list of the questions at the end of this post.
To calculate the average cost of treating chronic pain in the money graphic, I selected top answers in questions about prescription medications and alternative treatments and estimated the cost for each type of treatment.
Based on our survey, the three most common prescriptions for chronic pain are Cymbalta ($168.98 for 30 capsules), Hydrocodone-Ibuprofen ($33.99 for 30 tablets), and Oxycodone ($19.96 for 30 tablets). Including the brand-name drug increases the average cost, but this example includes only one prescription medication. Many people take more than one prescription to treat chronic pain, so the higher average cost is a fair reflection of reality.
Supplements were the most commonly selected alternative treatment for chronic pain. Fish oil, vitamin D, capsaicin, and glucosamine sulfate are commonly taken for chronic pain. I looked up prices for each one on Drugstore.com and averaged the cost of one package. It is difficult to determine an exact cost because capsaicin comes in patches while the other supplements are in pill or soft gel form.
All prices are from Drugstore.com as of October 2011.
Finally, 64% of respondents said that they had been treating chronic pain for more than seven years. The figures in the graphic reflect the cost for that group of people.
For the Happiness graphic, n=2,815. Respondents selected all answers that applied.
For the Money data, n=2,040. Respondents selected all answers that applied in a question about alternative treatments.
For the Treatment data, n=1,529 and n=2,040 respectively. Respondents selected all answers that applied.
In the Long Fight graphic, n=673 and n=577 respectively.
1. Have you been diagnosed with a chronic pain condition by a doctor?
2. Do you have a diagnosis for the specific cause of your chronic pain?
3. How long have you been treating your chronic pain?
4. Do you use any of these prescription medications to treat your symptoms? Select all that apply.
5. Do you use any over-the-counter medications to treat your chronic pain?
6. Have you tried any of these treatments for chronic pain?
7. If you have switched from one prescription medication to another, what was the main reason you changed your treatment? Select one.
8. Has chronic pain affected other areas of your life? Select all that apply.
9. Do you participate in any of any of these online activities? Select all that apply.
10. Do you have a cell phone that allows you to use applications and browse the web?
11. If you access health information from your cell phone, are you more likely to visit websites or use mobile applications?
12. What aspects of your overall health and well-being do you believe have been influenced by your online activities?
13. After finding information on a website about your condition, have you taken any of the following action? Select all that apply.
14. Once you have researched a medication or treatment online, what are you most likely to do next? Select one.
15. If you participate in online communities with people who have health conditions similar to yours, how important is it that these people have other qualities in common with you, such as age, race, gender or life stage?
16. When you share personal health information in an online health community, how important is a sense of trust in the web site?
17. How do you decide whether to trust a site?