Clinical importance of changes in chronic pain intensity measured on an 11-point numerical pain rating scale


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Abstract

Pain intensity is frequently measured on an 11-point pain intensity numerical rating scale (PI-NRS), where 0=no pain and 10=worst possible pain. However, it is difficult to interpret the clinical importance of changes from baseline on this scale (such as a 1- or 2-point change). To date, there are no data driven estimates for clinically important differences in pain intensity scales used for chronic pain studies. We have estimated a clinically important difference on this scale by relating it to global assessments of change in multiple studies of chronic pain. Data on 2724 subjects from 10 recently completed placebo-controlled clinical trials of pregabalin in diabetic neuropathy, postherpetic neuralgia, chronic low back pain, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis were used. The studies had similar designs and measurement instruments, including the PI-NRS, collected in a daily diary, and the standard seven-point patient global impression of change (PGIC), collected at the endpoint. The changes in the PI-NRS from baseline to the endpoint were compared to the PGIC for each subject. Categories of ‘much improved’ and ‘very much improved’ were used as determinants of a clinically important difference and the relationship to the PI-NRS was explored using graphs, box plots, and sensitivity/specificity analyses. A consistent relationship between the change in PI-NRS and the PGIC was demonstrated regardless of study, disease type, age, sex, study result, or treatment group. On average, a reduction of approximately two points or a reduction of approximately 30% in the PI-NRS represented a clinically important difference. The relationship between percent change and the PGIC was also consistent regardless of baseline pain, while higher baseline scores required larger raw changes to represent a clinically important difference. The application of these results to future studies may provide a standard definition of clinically important improvement in clinical trials of chronic pain therapies. Use of a standard outcome across chronic pain studies would greatly enhance the comparability, validity, and clinical applicability of these studies.

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