Medically unexplained pain and suicidal ideation among US adults

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Journal of affective disorders


BACKGROUND: Chronic pain is an established risk factor for suicide. Pain syndromes are complex to diagnose, particularly in cases with limited evidence of injury or pathology. The goal of this study is to assess whether pain of unknown origin (i.e., medically-unexplained pain, MUEP) is more strongly associated with suicide behaviors than pain with a diagnostic explanation.

METHODS: Data comes from the National Comorbidity Survey-Replication, a nationally-representative sample of US adults. Analysis was limited to participants with a lifetime history of any type of chronic pain (n = 3421), which were categorized as having medically-explained pain (MEP, e.g., pain due to a specific health condition or resulting from an injury identified in an x-ray) or MUEP. Logistic regression, using survey procedures, was used to assess the relationship between lifetime MUEP and lifetime history of suicidal ideation and attempts.

RESULTS: Approximately 1 in 10 (11.6 %) adults with chronic pain had MUEP. Those with MUEP reported earlier age of pain onset and more impairment due to health problems. Suicidal ideation was reported by 18.7 % of those with MEP and 28.4 % of those with MUEP. In fully-adjusted models, MUEP was associated with 1.60 times (95 % CI: 1.17-2.18) higher odds of suicidal ideation, and 1.89 (1.25-2.83) higher odds of suicide attempt, compared to MEP.

LIMITATIONS: Cross-sectional analysis; MUEP assessed by self-report.

CONCLUSIONS: Among adults with chronic pain, those with MUEP are more likely to report suicide behaviors. Findings illustrate a role for diagnostic and treatment processes in the relationship between pain and suicide.

Medical Subject Headings

Adult; Humans; Suicidal Ideation; Chronic Pain; Cross-Sectional Studies; Suicide, Attempted; Comorbidity; Risk Factors

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ePub ahead of print



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