Chronic pain at €4.7bn a year

THE OVERALL cost of chronic pain in Ireland is €4

THE OVERALL cost of chronic pain in Ireland is €4.7 billion a year – more than is spent on either cancer or diabetes, according to new research.

The most recent findings of the Prime study (Prevalence, Impact and Cost of Chronic Pain in Ireland) reveal that chronic pain – pain which is present for more than three months – accounts for about 2.5 per cent of annual GDP.

The study, which is the first large-scale project to examine the problem of chronic pain in Ireland, already found that one in three Irish people suffer from chronic pain.

Dr Brian McGuire, co-director at the Centre for Pain Research at NUI Galway, who is leading the study, said the average cost per year among people with chronic pain was €5,665 per person, but this doubled in people with more severe levels of pain.


Dr McGuire said the findings of the study showed that the cost of chronic pain in Ireland was very significant and that more attention was needed to be paid to this common health condition.

Dr McGuire will be speaking about the cost of living with chronic pain at the annual conference of Chronic Pain Ireland (CPI) which takes place in Galway on Thursday. The theme of the event is Recognising and Managing Chronic Pain – An Expert View 2011.

Co-director of the Centre for Pain Research at NUIG, Dr David Finn, said there was good research going on in the area of chronic pain, with some exciting potential for the development of new therapies.

He and his team are working in the new field of endocannabinoids, a marijuana-like substance in the body with the potential to suppress pain.

“In stress-induced analgesia, stress of an intense, acute, fairly short-term nature results in quite a potent pain suppression or analgesia such as we see in people after a car accident or soldiers in battle. They don’t feel pain until they leave the stressful situation.

“The flipside of this is anxiety-related hyper analgesia whereby chronic anxiety and future-orientated worrying usually leads to exacerbation of pain. We are looking at how stress can influence pain by turning it up or down.”

As the endocannabinoid system plays a role in both forms of pain relief, Dr Finn and his team are trying to develop a better understanding of how the system works with the end goal of developing new therapies and treatments. About 40 per cent of chronic pain patients suffer anxiety and vice versa.

Gina Plunkett, chairwoman of CPI, said one of the biggest problems for people with chronic pain was that they were not being diagnosed early enough to get early referral to pain specialists.

For more information on the CPI conference see or tel: 01-8047567

Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family