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Lifetime cigarette smoking and chronic widespread and regional pain in later adulthood: evidence from the 1946 British birth cohort study

29 Aug 2018


To examine whether different lifetime patterns of cigarette smoking are associated with chronic widespread pain (CWP) and chronic regional pain (CRP) at age 68.


Prospective cohort study.


England, Scotland and Wales.


Up to 2347 men and women from the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development, who have been followed up since birth in 1946 and provided sufficient information on cigarette smoking across adulthood to be classified as never smoker, predominantly non-smoker, predominantly smoker or lifelong smoker and pain assessment at age 68.

Primary outcome measures

Pain was self-reported at age 68, and CWP was defined according to American College of Rheumatology criteria. Participants who reported having pain for ≥3 months but who did not meet the CWP definition were classified as having CRP; those who reported pain which had lasted for <3 months were classified as ‘other’ pain. No pain was the reference group.


Findings from multinomial logistic regression models indicated that compared with never smokers, predominantly non-smokers, predominantly smokers and lifelong smokers all had an increased risk of CWP; relative risk ratios=1.70(95% CI 1.16 to 2.49); 2.10(95% CI 1.34 to 3.28) and 1.88(95% CI 0.99 to 3.57), respectively, after adjusting for sex, own occupational class, educational level, body mass index, leisure time physical activity, alcohol intake, long-standing illness and symptoms of anxiety and depression. No association was observed between smoking history and CRP or other pain.


These results suggest that exposure to cigarette smoking at any stage in adulthood was associated with higher risk of CWP in later adulthood; highlighting the ongoing importance of smoking prevention programmes. It also suggests that assessment of lifetime smoking behaviour may be more useful in identifying those at greater risk of CWP in later life than assessment of current smoking status.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open