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Severe pain at the end of life: a population-level observational study

Hagarty AM, Bush SH, Talarico R, Lapenskie J, Tanuseputro P. BMC Palliat Care. 2020; 19(1):60. Epub 2020 Apr 30. DOI:

Background — Pain is a prevalent symptom at the end of life and negatively impacts quality of life. Despite this, little population level data exist that describe pain frequency and associated factors at the end of life. The purpose of this study was to explore the prevalence of clinically significant pain at the end of life and identify predictors of increased pain.

Methods — Retrospective population-level cohort study of all decedents in Ontario, Canada, from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2015 who received a home care assessment in the last 30 days of life (n = 20,349). Severe daily pain in the last 30 days of life using linked Ontario health administrative databases. Severe pain is defined using a validated pain scale combining pain frequency and intensity: daily pain of severe intensity.

Results — Severe daily pain was reported in 17.2% of 20,349 decedents. Increased risk of severe daily pain was observed in decedents who were female, younger and functionally impaired. Those who were cognitively impaired had a lower risk of reporting pain. Disease trajectory impacted pain; those who died of a terminal illness (i.e. cancer) were more likely to experience pain than those with frailty (odds ratio 1.66).

Conclusion — Pain is a common fear of those contemplating end of life, but severe pain is reported in less than 1 in 5 of our population in the last month of life. Certain subpopulations may be more likely to report severe pain at the end of life and may benefit from earlier palliative care referral and intervention.

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