Chronic pain as a symptom or a disease: the IASP Classification of Chronic Pain for the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11)


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Abstract

Chronic pain is a major source of suffering. It interferes with daily functioning and often is accompanied by distress. Yet, in the International Classification of Diseases, chronic pain diagnoses are not represented systematically. The lack of appropriate codes renders accurate epidemiological investigations difficult and impedes health policy decisions regarding chronic pain such as adequate financing of access to multimodal pain management. In cooperation with the WHO, an IASP Working Group has developed a classification system that is applicable in a wide range of contexts, including pain medicine, primary care, and low-resource environments. Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists or recurs for more than 3 months. In chronic pain syndromes, pain can be the sole or a leading complaint and requires special treatment and care. In conditions such as fibromyalgia or nonspecific low-back pain, chronic pain may be conceived as a disease in its own right; in our proposal, we call this subgroup “chronic primary pain.” In 6 other subgroups, pain is secondary to an underlying disease: chronic cancer-related pain, chronic neuropathic pain, chronic secondary visceral pain, chronic posttraumatic and postsurgical pain, chronic secondary headache and orofacial pain, and chronic secondary musculoskeletal pain. These conditions are summarized as “chronic secondary pain” where pain may at least initially be conceived as a symptom. Implementation of these codes in the upcoming 11th edition of International Classification of Diseases will lead to improved classification and diagnostic coding, thereby advancing the recognition of chronic pain as a health condition in its own right.

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