BACKGROUND: The increasing prevalence and adverse outcomes associated with opioid analgesia use in women of reproductive age have become a significant public health issue internationally, with use during pregnancy potentially affecting maternal and infant health outcomes.
OBJECTIVE: This study aims to provide national estimates of chronic pain, pain severity and analgesia use in Australian women of reproductive age by pregnancy status.
METHOD: Data were obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011-12 National Health Survey (n=20,426). Weighting was applied to sample data to obtain population estimates. For this study data were analysed for pregnant (n=166, N=192,617) and non-pregnant women (n=4710, N=5,256,154) of reproductive age (15-49 years).
RESULTS: Chronic or reoccurring pain was reported in 5.1% of pregnant women and 9.7% of non-pregnant women, and 0.7% and 2.6% of pregnant and non-pregnant women reported recent opioid analgesia use respectively. Moderate-to-very severe pain was more common in pregnant than non-pregnant women taking opioid analgesics, and no pain and very mild-to-mild pain in non-pregnant women.
CONCLUSION: Approximately 1 in 20 pregnant Australian women have chronic or reoccurring pain. Opioid analgesia was used by around 1% of Australian pregnant women during a two-week period, with use associated with moderate-to-very severe pain. Given that the safety of many analgesic medications in pregnancy remains unknown, pregnant women and health professionals require accurate, up-to-date information on the risks and benefits of analgesic use during pregnancy. Further evidence on the decision-making processes of pregnant women with pain should assist health professionals maximise outcomes for mothers and infants.