Chronic pain in the community: A survey in a township in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, South Africa

02 Oct 2012

Background: Comprehensive information is needed on the epidemiology and burden of chronic pain in the population for the development of appropriate health interventions. This study aimed to determine the prevalence, severity, risk indicators and responses of chronic pain among adults in Ngangelizwe, Mthatha, South Africa. Method: A cross-sectional survey utilising structured interviews of a sample of adult residents was used. Interviews elicited information on socio-demographic characteristics, general health status, and the prevalence, duration, frequency, severity, activity limitation and impact of chronic pain. Results: More than 95% (n = 473) of the sampled adults participated in the study. Of these, 182 [38.5%, 95% confidence interval (CI): 36.3-42.5%] reported chronic pain in at least one anatomical site. The most common pain sites were the back and head. The median pain score was 5 on a scale of 0 to 10 [interquartile range (IQR) = 4-7] and the median number of sites of pain was 1 (IQR = 1-2). Female gender [odds ratio (OR) = 2.6, 95% CI: 1.7-3.9] and being older than 50 years of age (OR = 3.5, 95% CI: 2.6-4.1) were identified as risk indicators for chronic pain in the sample. Over 65% of respondents reported that they self-treated; 92.1% had consulted with a doctor or nurse, 13.6% consulted a traditional healer, and 34.5% consulted a pharmacist because of their pain. Despite this, over 50% reported that relief of their pain was transient. Conclusion: Chronic pain is a common general complaint in this community, but there is a need for focused attention on women and the elderly.