Skip Navigation Archive: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Archive: Agency for Healthcare Research Quality
Archival print banner

This information is for reference purposes only. It was current when produced and may now be outdated. Archive material is no longer maintained, and some links may not work. Persons with disabilities having difficulty accessing this information should contact us at: Let us know the nature of the problem, the Web address of what you want, and your contact information.

Please go to for current information.

  • Publication # 13-RA010

People with disabilities frequently experience pain and fatigue

Chronic Disease

Approximately 1 in 5 people in the United States have a disability. These individuals can experience a range of symptoms, which in turn, can affect their health status and physical functioning. In fact, a new study found diverse and significant symptom experiences among people with disabilities, with pain and fatigue being the most common symptoms. 

Image: A man in a wheelchair is assisted by another person. A total of 12,249 Midwestern adults aged 40 and older returned a questionnaire asking them to describe how frequently they experienced 1 or more of 21 commonly reported symptoms. They also answered questions about whether or not they had a disability, their perceived health status, physical functioning, number of medications taken, and demographic details.

More than a third of those surveyed (37.8 percent) reported a disability. Among nondisabled respondents, 67.4 percent reported excellent or very good health compared to only 24.7 percent of those with a disability. However, there were some persons with a disability who reported very good or excellent health. For all participants, the top four most frequently experienced symptoms were joint pain, muscle pain, backache, and sleeping problems. The adults with disabilities had significantly greater prevalence and frequencies of all 21 symptoms listed in the questionnaire, especially for pain and fatigue. There was a strong association between the reporting of symptoms and lower self-rated general health status, as well as poorer self-reported physical function.

On average, participants took three medications. After controlling for disability and demographics, the researchers found a significant negative association with the number of medications taken and self-reported general health status and physical functioning. The study was supported in part by AHRQ (HS16094). 

See "Living with disability: Patterns of health problems and symptom mediation of health consequences," by Brandon J. Patterson, Pharm.D., William R. Doucette, Ph.D., Scott D. Lindgren, Ph.D., and Elizabeth A. Chrischilles, Ph.D., in Disability and Health Journal 5, pp. 151-158, 2012.


Page last reviewed July 2013
Internet Citation: People with disabilities frequently experience pain and fatigue: Chronic Disease. July 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.


The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.


AHRQ Advancing Excellence in Health Care