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Anxiety Symptoms Often Accompany Chronic Pain

Individuals suffering from chronic pain should be evaluated for anxiety disorders, according to a new study published in General Hospital Psychiatry.

“I think [health care] providers are more aware of the common occurrence of depression in patients with chronic pain, and there has been less of an emphasis on anxiety,” said lead author Kurt Kroenke, M.D., professor of medicine at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

The study involved 250 patients who were being treated at a veterans’ medical center in the Midwest. All patients suffered from moderate to severe chronic joint or back pain that had lasted at least three months despite pain medications.

All participants were screened for five common anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety (persistent worry); panic, or sudden, repeated attacks of fear; social anxiety (overwhelming anxiety in everyday social interactions); post-traumatic stress, or a repeated feeling of danger after a stressful event; and obsessive-compulsive disorder (repeated thoughts or rituals that interfere with daily life).

Patients were also screened for health-related quality of life issues, such as fatigue, sleep habits, and work productivity.

The findings showed that 45 percent of the chronic pain patients screened positive for at least one or more of the common anxiety disorders.

Those who had an anxiety disorder also reported significantly worse pain and health-related quality of life than patients without a disorder.

“It is important to note that patients in our study screened positive for an anxiety disorder but not all would have a full-blown anxiety disorder if they had a diagnostic psychiatric interview,” said Kroenke.

“Some may just have anxiety symptoms and not all would warrant active treatment. However, probably at least 1 in 5 might have some type of anxiety disorder.”

The results also showed that it was common for the five different types of anxiety conditions to occur in combination with each other and with depression.

“Psychological comorbidities are common in patients with chronic low back pain and other studies have also shown a high prevalence of depression, anxiety and other psychological conditions,” said pain expert Roger Chou, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.

Chou added that the clinician guidelines for managing lower back pain do recommend that physicians evaluate patients for psychological factors that may be contributing to a poorer prognosis.

“Many patients benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy to help them in coping with the pain and related anxiety,” Chou continued.

“Just throwing pain medications at someone like this doesn’t tend to be very effective since you’re not dealing with an important driver of the pain.”

Source:  Center for Advancing Health

Anxiety Symptoms Often Accompany Chronic Pain

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Anxiety Symptoms Often Accompany Chronic Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 11 May 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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