MRC LHA & NSHD > Findings > LHA Lay Summaries > Muthuri et al 2016 Pain

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Chronic physical illness in early life and risk of chronic widespread and regional pain at age 68: evidence from the 1946 British birth cohort

Chronic pain is commonly reported in older people and has a major negative impact on function, quality of life, wellbeing and activity participation. Therefore, identifying factors earlier in life that influence risk of pain in later life may present new opportunities for intervention.  While some previous studies present evidence to suggest that serious illness in childhood may increase the risk of chronic pain in adulthood these are few and inconsistent.  Further, where associations have been found study participants have not been followed up beyond midlife and so it has not been possible to establish whether these persist into old age.

In this paper we have used data from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development to examine the links between chronic physical illnesses in earlier life and pain at age 68. We found that those participants who had experienced serious illness before age 25 (defined as a stay in hospital of at least 28 days) were more likely to report chronic widespread pain (CWP) at age 68.  This relationship was not explained by sex, education, socioeconomic position, weight, longstanding health problems in adulthood, smoking, physical activity or psychosocial factors (including parental divorce and symptoms of anxiety and depression). We also found evidence that this association was cumulative;those who experienced serious illness two or more times had the highest risk of CWP. 

These findings have important public health implications especially in light of global population ageing; those people who have experienced serious illness in earlier life are at higher risk of chronic pain in old age and so may require more support than others to minimize their risk.

Muthuri SG, Kuh D, Bendayan R, Macfarlane GJ, Cooper R
Pain, 14 July 2016