World Health Organisation proposes new definition of chronic pain, giving hope to patients


The World Health Organisation (WHO), the global institution that sets health policy standards, has proposed a new definition of ‘chronic pain’ that could significantly improve care for pain patients. Dr Robert Jakob, WHO’s Chief Medical Officer, spoke about this new definition and its implications at the Symposium on the Social Impact of Pain (SIP).

The classification of primary chronic pain as a disease should lead governments to take a new interest in pain and how their health systems assess and treat it. The WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is followed by governments as they modify their health systems and consider what services to fund. Apart from governments, the ICD also informs both clinicians and researchers. Now, primay chronic pain is likely to be included in this classification for the first time.

“This will have important implications for health care,” said Rolf-Detlef Treede, Vice-Dean for Research at the Mannheim Medical School of the University of Heidelberg in Germany and former President of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). “Finally, it looks like chronic pain is going to get the recognition it deserves,” he said.

Liisa Jutila, Vice President of the Pain Alliance Europe, agreed, noting: “Chronic pain has for years been misunderstood and under-treated. The WHO recognising primary chronic pain should reverse this trend and improve the lives of patients worldwide.”

The European Pain Federation (EFIC), which represents 20,000 healthcare professionals and researchers in the field of pain has been proposing to define chronic pain as a disease since 2001. All indications are that the new International Catalogue of Diseases, supported by the IASP, will include “chronic pain” in it.

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