Differences in pain-related characteristics among younger and older veterans receiving primary care.
To characterize the nature of pain complaints among younger and older veterans receiving primary care, and to determine whether characteristics of pain vary as a function of age.
Primary care patients at a Veterans Affairs medical center were screened for pain prior to a routine office visit, and those who endorsed a concern about pain were given a self-administered questionnaire that inquired about specific characteristics of their pain including site, duration, frequency, and average intensity of the pain.
Over a 7-month period, 1,290 patients were screened; 641 (50%) reported a concern about pain, and of these, 516 (82%) completed the pain survey. Among younger (age <65 years, N = 191) and older (age > or =65 years, N = 325) respondents, the mean number of sites causing pain was similar (3.6 vs 3.3). Back pain was the most frequently reported site of pain causing the most discomfort among younger (vs older) respondents (31.9% vs 17.8%), whereas older (vs younger) respondents most often endorsed leg pain (32.3% vs 19.9%). The mean duration of pain was not significantly different between older and younger (10.7 vs 10.1 years) respondents; but older (vs younger) respondents were more likely to report constant pain (63.7% vs 46.9%). Using a 0 to 10 numeric rating scale, pain intensity scores were higher among younger (vs older) respondents (5.3 vs 4.3). Rates of prescription pain medication use were not significantly different (52.4% vs 48.0%). Compensation for pain-related disability was more common among younger (vs older) respondents (40.4% vs 19.4%).
Concerns about pain are common among veterans receiving primary care. Characteristics of pain, including site, frequency, and intensity, varied as a function of age. Future studies are needed to confirm these findings in other primary care populations and to determine reasons for these differences.