Race, Ethnicity, and Pain among the U.S. Adult Population


Introduction. There is reliable evidence that racial/ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately from unrelieved pain compared with Whites. Several factors may contribute to disparities in pain management. Understanding how these factors influence effective pain management among racial/ethnic minority populations would be helpful for developing tailored interventions designed to eliminate racial/ethnic disparities in pain management. We conducted a review of the literature to explore the interaction between race/ethnicity, cultural influences; pain perception, assessment, and communication; provider and patient characteristics; and health system factors and how they might contribute to racial/ethnic disparities in receipt of effective pain management. Methods. The published literature from 1990–2008 was searched for articles with data on racial/ethnic patterns of pain management as well as racially, ethnically, and culturally-specific attitudes toward pain, pain assessment, and communication; provider prescribing patterns; community access to pain medications; and pain coping strategies among U.S. adults. Results. The literature suggests that racial/ethnic disparities in pain management may operate through limited access to health care and appropriate analgesics; patient access to or utilization of pain specialists; miscommunication and/or misperceptions about the presence and/or severity of pain; patient attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that influence the acceptance of appropriate analgesics and analgesic doses; and provider attitudes, knowledge and beliefs about patient pain.