Serious arthritis pain is common in the last two years of life

Arthritis pain can mar the last few years of life, according to a new study. Moderate to severe pain was common in one-quarter of the people studied, with arthritis as the biggest predictor of pain, even outweighing pain from cancer.

The study suggests that this nonfatal condition should be taken more seriously because of its power to erode quality-of-life, said the authors of the research. They analyzed data from interviews of 4,703 men and women age 50 and older who died while enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study, an ongoing longitudinal study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. While 25% of the participants had significant pain in the last two years of life, that proportion rose to 50% in the last four months of life. The prevalence of pain in the last month of life was 60% among patients with arthritis compared with 26% among patients without arthritis.

The cause of death, such as heart disease or cancer, is often not what is most bothersome to the patient. And yet previous research has shown that pain is rated as the most important of 44 potential factors related to a “good death” in a national survey of ill patients, their families members and doctors. Doctors should pay special attention to the various causes of pain in ill, elderly patients and refer them to hospices or pain clinics that can ease their suffering, said the authors of the new study, from the San Francisco VA Medical center.

“Despite increasing recognition that pain in later life constitutes a major public health issue, older persons are dramatically underrepresented in specialty pain clinics,” they wrote.


The study was published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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