Type of Chronic Pain May Affect Risk for Suicide

Type of Chronic Pain May Affect Risk for Suicide

Suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in the United States, and is often related to serious depression, alcohol or substance abuse, or a major stressful event. Given the high correlation between chronic illness and depression, it is not surprising that studies have found suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and suicide completions to be common in patients with chronic noncancer pain. Now, researchers believe that the type of chronic pain also may play a role in risk for suicide.

“About 20% [of patients with chronic pain] most likely have passing suicidal thoughts; 5% have active thoughts; and about 5% have a past history,” said Martin Cheatle, PhD, director of the Pain and Chemical Dependency Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. “So, it is a pretty significant problem.”

Recent research has now expanded its scope to determine what chronic pain conditions are most closely linked to suicide risk. A study conducted in Spain found that suicidal ideation is highly prevalent among patients with severe fibromyalgia, a disorder that is characterized by chronic pain, sleep disturbances and depression (Pain Pract 2014 Jan 17. [Epub ahead of print]). Of 373 patients with fibromyalgia, 179 (48%) reported suicidal ideation. Of those, 148 (39.7%) described what was considered to be passive suicidal ideation and 31 (8.3%) reported active suicidal ideation. Risk for suicide was more commonly related to symptoms of psychological distress (depression, anxiety, sleep quality, mental health) than to physical symptoms of the disease (pain, general health).

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