Several epidemiological studies have shown that pain is a very common complaint in patients who seek medical care. However, the characteristics of how pain is treated in the general population have been studied less. The present survey was conducted to describe and analyze how the general population of Catalonia (Spain) approaches the treatment of their pain complaints. The study was carried out in 1964 adults who were surveyed by phone about the presence of painful events in the last six months, the intensity and location of their pain, what they did to treat their pain, and their resulting level of relief. Data were compared by age and gender. Pain prevalence was high (78.6%) and more frequent in women. The therapeutic strategy most commonly used was a visit to the physician (66.3%), followed by self-medication (27.6%) and alternative medicines (20.5%). Drugs were the primary treatment used by physicians (86.5%), followed by physical therapy (18.1%). Pain in the extremities, back and neck pain were often unsuccessfully treated. Self-medication was often performed with acetylsalicylic acid and paracetamol (acetaminophen), and was commonly used in conjunction with other therapeutic approaches (51.9%). Age (low use of paracetamol in the elderly) and gender (low use of paracetamol in men) were related to the type of drug used in self-medication. Older men, and those with severe pain located in the chest, required hospital admission more commonly. In conclusion, pain is a common reason for seeking medical care and using drugs. Therapeutic approaches are often related to the type of pain, but also to age or gender. Knowledge of these characteristics may allow for a more efficient use of available resources. © U.S. Cancer Pain Relief Committee, 2002.
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