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Print version ISSN 2595-0118On-line version ISSN 2595-3192

BrJP vol.1 no.4 São Paulo Oct./Dec. 2018 


Correlation between neuropathic pain and quality of life

Flavia Cesarino Almeida1 

Amanda Castilho2 

Claudia Bernardi Cesarino1 

Rita de Cassia Helu Mendonça Ribeiro1 

Marielza Regina Ismael Martins2 

1Faculdade de Medicina de São José do Rio Preto, Departamento de Enfermagem, Pós-Graduação de Enfermagem, São José do Rio Preto, SP, Brasil.

2Faculdade de Medicina de São José do Rio Preto, São José do Rio Preto, SP, Brasil.



Neuropathic pain is a complex, painful condition, difficult to diagnose and treat with a negative impact on patients’ health and quality of life. The objective of this study was to evaluate the correlation between pain and quality of life, identifying the limiting aspects in the daily life of these individuals, so that patient education is recommended in the management of this condition.


This is a descriptive, cross-sectional study conducted in a Pain Clinic with 61 patients diagnosed with neuropathic pain. The tools used to assess the quality of life were a semi-structured interview, the Douleur Neuropathique 4 Questions questionnaire, and the World Health Organization Quality of Life-BREF.


Of the patients, 57.3% were women, average age 50.6±13.12 years. As for the educational level, 59% attended elementary school, and 61% were married. In 39%, diseases were the main causes of pain and physical problems as the main changes after pain (57%). The majority of patients had a positive attitude towards neuropathic pain (68%). The physical domain was the most impaired in quality of life. All the domains of the quality of life assessment instrument had Cronbach’s alpha coefficients (<0.700) with average adherence, especially the general domain, with Cronbach’s alpha negative (-0.055).


Knowing the aspects of the impact of pain on patients’ quality of life comes to be a useful scientific resource in the clinical practice and encourages a model of educational intervention where the client is the main subject in managing their painful condition.

Keywords: Chronic pain; Education; Quality of life


Neuropathic pain (NP) occurs as a direct consequence of a disease or injury that affects the somatosensory system1 and that should have the diagnosis based on the description of the pain by the patient and other subjective symptoms (burns, cracks, shocks, etc.), assessment of clinical signs, and laboratory tests that demonstrate such alterations2.

Data from the literature vary but reported a prevalence of NP around 8% of the general population, probably due to the methodology used and the instruments for diagnosis. In Latin America, NP affects 2% of the population, and 15 patients out of 100 who seek medical help for pain suffer from NP2,3.

The assessment of the patient should focus on the degree of impairment of the somatosensory system, neurological deficits, comorbidities of the limbic system and cognition, and finally, on the general impact of pain on health and quality of life (QoL) of patients3.

Studies show that chronic neuropathic pain may contribute to disability, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, poor QoL and increased health care costs, with about 20% of the adult population in Europe4,5 compromised.

Recent studies have shown that most patients treated for NP receive drugs of undetermined efficacy or underdosed, with tricyclic antidepressants and anticonvulsants drugs being the main representatives in the treatment of this type of pain, whether peripheral or central origin6,7.

One factor that interferes with the study of NP prevalence is the method used to make the diagnosis. Several criteria are currently used, and the most used instruments have been the Douleur Neuropathique 4 Questions (DN4) questionnaires and especially the Leeds Assessment of Neuropathic Symptoms and Signs Score (S-LANSS) that aim to identify predominantly pain of neuropathic origin, as distinct of nociceptive pain, without the need for clinical examination. The S-LANSS questionnaire was recently validated for use in postal surveys, making identification of pain of predominantly neuropathic origin easier and more feasible. Another instrument is the painDETECT (PD-Q) questionnaire, a reliable screening instrument with high sensitivity, specificity and a positive predictive value around 80%8,9.

It is noted that in recent surveys, non-pharmacological and psychoeducational methods for the management of pain are increasingly being used; which demonstrates a new vision of professionals.

Nevertheless, these studies are scarce in Brazil, and in the international literature, although appearing more frequently. It is observed that educational interventions produce significant positive effects on the function and knowledge of patients with pain10.

Thus, it is advisable to enable the person to self-manage, and education and training on the nature of pain and its effects have demonstrated that the use of self-care educational intervention in patients with NP improves QoL, independence, and vitality11.

Given this context, this study aimed to assess the correlation between pain and QoL, identifying limiting aspects in the daily life of these patients.


This is a descriptive, cross-sectional study performed at the Pain Clinic of the Base Hospital of São José do Rio Preto, with patients clinically diagnosed with NP, on mean 15±2.3 months. Patients with mental retardation, neurological disease or who did not consent to participate in the study were excluded.

A semi-structured interview was used to collect the sociodemographic data of patients with neuropathic pain and the DN412 pain questionnaire, originally in French, which was duly translated and validated into Portuguese and was used to identify patients with non-neuropathic and neuropathic pain. The questionnaire consists of 10 items subdivided into two parts: sensorial descriptors (seven items) and signs related to sensory examination (three items). The presence of NP was considered the dependent variable and necessary to achieve a score of at least 4 in 10, while non-neuropathic pain presented scores lower than 4 in 10.

In order to assess the QoL, the WHOQOL-bref13 questionnaire was used, consisting of 26 questions divided into 4 domains: physical, psychological, social relations and the environment. This instrument is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) because it values individual perception and can assess the QoL in several groups and situations, regardless of the level of education. The instrument has satisfactory psychometric properties and requires little application time. Through this instrument, it is possible to describe the subjective perception of an individual in relation to his/her physical and psychological health, social relations and the environment in which he/she live13,14.

Sampling was of convenience, and the calculation of its size considered the population of 70 patients attended monthly in the Service of the Pain Clinic. The study sample was calculated by the online sample calculator, considering a 95% confidence interval and an error margin of 55, totaling 61 patients.

These data were collected by a previously trained researcher, prior to the medical appointment, and his/her telephone contacts were recorded for future self-management research.

This study was approved with Opinion n. 2,024,585 by the FAMERP Ethics and Research Committee.

Statistical analysis

The statistical analysis used the t-test in the comparison of the QoL instrument scores and the Variance Analysis (ANOVA) test with a post-hoc Tukey multiple comparison test to compare the QoL instrument scores and pain, in addition to the alpha analysis of Cronbach for correlations. The level of significance applied to the tests: 0.05 or 5% and the software used was Minitab 17 (Minitab Inc.).


61 patients were assessed: 57.3% (n=35) women, mean age 50.6±13.1 years old and median age 51 years old. The coefficient of variation (CV) of this distribution was 25.9%. The minimum age observed was 21 years, and the maximum age was 74 years. As for educational level, 59% (n=36) attended only elementary school and 61% (n=37) were married. It was reported in 39% (n=24) diseases as being the main cause of pain and, reporting physical problems as the main changes after pain (57% - n=35).

Most patients presented a positive attitude towards NP (68% - n=42) (Table 1).

Table 1 Percentage of sample characterization variables of patients with neuropathic pain assessed in the study. São José do Rio Preto/SP, 2017 

Variables Patients with neuropathic pain
n %
Female 35 57.38
Male 26 42.62
Elementary school 36 59.02
High school 15 24.59
Higher education 10 16.39
Marital status
With partner 37 61.67
Without a partner 23 38.33
Cause of pain
Accident 16 26.23
Diseases 24 39.34
Others 16 26.23
Do not know 5 8.20
Changes after pain
Emotional problems 26 42.62
Physical problems 35 57.38
How they deal with pain
Negative attitude 19 68.85
Positive attitude 42 31.15

All patients had NP confirmed by DN4. When considering the aspects involved in this questionnaire, the pain intensity was 5.1±1.2, and the most prevalent sensory descriptors were tingling (52%) and burning (28%). Regarding the physical signs related to sensitivity, hypoesthesia to the touch was the predominant one (62%).

Regarding QoL, table 2 shows the results of the WHOQOL-BREF application for patients with NP.

Table 2 Descriptive statistics of quality of life scores of patients with neuropathic pain by the World Health Organization Quality of Life-BREF. São José do Rio Preto/SP, 2017 

Domain n Mean±standard deviation2 Median age P value1
General 61 49.18±17.66 ab 50.00 <0.001
Physical 61 43.74±14.60 b 46.43
Psychological 61 55.33±15.50 a 54.17
Social 61 56.69±18.56 a 58.33
Environment 61 55.58±12.57 a 56.25

1P value for the Variance Analysis (ANOVA) test at p<0.05.

2Different letters in the same column are differentiated by the Tukey multiple comparison test at p<0.05.

In this study, the physical domain was the one with the lowest score when compared to the other domains, showing that the patients assessed had significantly lower QoL in this domain. Thus, this domain will be analyzed according to the sample characterization variables in order to observe the influence of these variables on the physical domain score (Table 3).

Table 3 Descriptive statistics of physical domain scores according to the World Health Organization Quality of Life-BREF for patients with neuropathic pain. São José do Rio Preto/SP, 2017 

Descriptive statistics n Mean±standard deviation Median age P value
Female 35 44.69±13.23 46.43 0.570
Male 26 42.45±16.45 44.64
Age group (years old)
Up to 59 44 45.62±13.23 46.43 0.157
60 or more 17 38.87±17.17 42.86
Marital status
With partner 38 44.08±13.19 42.86 0.827
Without partner 23 43.17±16.99 46.43
Elementary school 36 44.15±15.32 44.64 0.888
High school 15 42.14±17.03 46.43
Higher education 10 44.64±7.19 44.64
Cause of pain
Accident 16 49.33±12.73 50.00 0.344
Disease 24 40.92±16.14 42.86
Others 16 42.41±15.20 42.86
Do not know 5 43.57±6.87 46.43
Changes after pain
Emotional problems 26 44.23±13.13 44.64 0.817
Physical problems 35 43.37±15.79 46.43
How you deal with pain
Negative attitude 19 40.04±13.07 42.86 0.165
Positive attitude 42 45.41±15.10 46.43

*P value for the t-test for independent samples at p<0.05.

The results of table 3 showed that there are no significant differences in the physical domain scores for the sample characterization variables assessed.

As for correlations, the Cronbach alpha parameter was used, which indicates the adherence of the sample to the applied QOL instrument, showing the high or low reliability of the instrument to measure the QoL of the study subjects. Table 4 shows the Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for patients with NP.

Table 4 Cronbach's alpha coefficients for the World Health Organization Quality of Life-BREF instrument domains for patients with neuropathic pain. São José do Rio Preto/SP, 2017 

Domains Scale/item Cronbach alpha coefficient with item exclusion Cronbach's alpha coefficient of the scale
General 1 - -0.055
2 -
Physical 3 0.493 0.492
4 0.445
10 0.506
15 0.430
16 0.362
17 0.484
18 0.433
Psychological 5 0.455 0.550
6 0.441
7 0.358
11 0.470
19 0.487
26 0.711
Social 20 0.469 0.475
21 0.043
22 0.557
Environmental 8 0.524 0.546
9 0.517
12 0.551
13 0.536
14 0.453
23 0.496
24 0.477
25 0.535


A survey conducted by the USP School of Nursing in 201515 aimed to know the implications of NP in the QoL of individuals with traumatic spinal cord injury. Unlike the results of this study, the patients participating in the survey were mostly males, aged between 30 and 49 years, married, retired and complete high school education. The implications of patients with NP and QoL show that patients who reported higher pain intensity had a worse outcome in relation to QoL in the social factor, which addresses personal relationships, sexual life, and support received from friends15.

A study of the probable prevalence of NP in the USA16, with a total of 24,925 interviewees, the demographic data showed 52.2% of females with an average age of 51.5 years, corroborating the data of this study.

Other authors16 found that even when living with NP, patients have a positive attitude, seeking a better QoL, but that is directly proportional to the intensity of the pain, that is, the higher the pain, the lower the QoL of the individual.

In this context, a recent survey17 reports that people with chronic pain are not passive. They actively try to change the causes of pain and their own behavior in response to pain. However, for many patients, such a change without therapeutic help is unattainable, and repeated misguided attempts to resolve the pain problem lead them further into a cycle of pain, depression, and disability.

One study assessed the impact of trigeminal neuralgia on QoL and its association with time of pain18 in 20 patients over 40 years old, divided into 2 groups. Group I was formed by 10 patients with trigeminal neuralgia and group II by 10 healthy, painless patients. It was concluded that trigeminal neuralgia exerts a negative impact on QoL, regardless of the intensity of the pain.

In a study that sought to identify the NP using the DN4, it showed that it presents itself as a validated tool for tracking19. In this survey, the item “tingling” was the most reported by those who reported pain (52%), followed by “burning” (36.5%) as the most reported complaint, and of the “pinched and needles” (35.4%) and “numbness” (31.2%). These results are in agreement with what is predicted in the literature, which points to tingling, numbness, burning, continuous pain, lacerating and pinched sensation as clinical manifestations of NP19.

Epidemiological studies on the prevalence of chronic neuropathic pain in patients’ daily life report that chronic NP (NeP-Neuropathic Pain) can significantly reduce QoL and impose economic burdens on individuals and society. In these studies, there is strong evidence and suggest that patients with NeP experience worse health-related QoL levels than the general population15,19.

All domains of the QoL assessment instrument had Cronbach’s alpha coefficients below 0.700, especially the general domain, with Cronbach’s alpha negative. Thus, with a coefficient of around 0.4 and 0.5, the instrument used (WHOQOL-BREF) showed a medium adhesion of patients with neuropathic pain. It is worth mentioning that the use of certain previously validated and general questionnaires can lead to this type of result since they are not specific for certain types of patients, that is, they are not ad-hoc.

In a survey conducted in São Luís, MA20, which assessed the influence of chronic pain on the QoL of the elderly, the WHOQOL-BREF presented good internal consistency. By the values observed by Cronbach’s alpha coefficient in all its questions, it was possible to show the negative influence of chronic pain on the QoL of these elderlies.

The studies agree to show that chronic pain is related to the decrease in QoL, affecting autonomy and daily, social, family and financial activities17,19.


It was found that patients with NP had the QoL affected with the greatest impact on physical problems after the onset of pain and presented a positive attitude towards it, trying to change the causes of pain, but with therapeutic help.

Sponsoring sources: Bolsa de Iniciação Cientifica CNPq.


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Received: March 12, 2018; Accepted: September 17, 2018

Correspondence: Avenida Faria Lima, 5416 – Vila São Pedro 15090-000 São José do Rio Preto. E-mail:

Conflict of interests: none

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