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Racial Differences in Pain Treatment

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African Americans may be dispropor—tionately missing out on effective treatment for their chronic pain — from arthritis to backaches — and as a result suffering outsize effects on their ability to work and enjoy life, according to a study reported by the University of Michigan Health System at the annual meeting of the American Pain Society.

New research results on pain differences between blacks and whites show that black women, for example, are much more likely than white women to have severe pain and related mental health effects when they finally seek treatment from pain specialists. Blacks also had more barriers to getting effective pain care.

And although the researchers have not yet found precise reasons for the differences between blacks and whites in how they perceive and handle pain, they suspect that many factors, including economic and cultural ones, are at work. They have additional studies under way to further explore the impact of chronic pain on racial and ethnic minorities.

The researchers studied African American and Caucasian men and women who were seen at the university's pain center for chronic pain. Using standardized survey questionnaires, 3,132 white and 345 black women were asked about their pain, emotional health and disability level. In a separate study, the team tallied the answers of 136 white and 101 black patients with chronic pain from a 50-item questionnaire about their pain treatment patterns, perceptions and payment. The results parallel disparities that other researchers have found between blacks and other races in other diseases and their treatment, such as cancer and heart disease.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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