The dimensionality of pain: Palliative care and chronic pain patients differ in their reports of pain intensity and pain interference

Peter M. Fayers, Marianne J. Hjermstad, Pål Klepstad, Jon Håvard Loge, Augusto Caraceni, Geoffrey W. Hanks, Petter Borchgrevink, Stein Kaasa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The accurate, precise, and consistent assessment of pain is of particular importance in palliative care. The European Palliative Care Research Collaborative is developing a computer-based pain assessment instrument and has been evaluating the content and dimensionality of existing pain questionnaires. The most important dimensions of pain are intensity and interference. However, since pain interference is a consequence of and largely reflects pain intensity, we postulated that it might either provide information to enhance the evaluation of intensity, or that an overall summary measure of pain severity could be constructed by combining the 2 dimensions. Cancer patients in palliative care (n = 395) and chronic pain patients (n = 168) completed questionnaires that included 23 pain items culled from existing questionnaires. Psychometric analyses confirmed the existence of 2 main dimensions, intensity and interference, and also guided identification of items that contributed most strongly to these dimensions. However, there was strong evidence that the relationship between the intensity and the interference items differs markedly in palliative care patients compared to chronic pain patients. As hypothesized, there was strong correlation between intensity and interference, lending support to the possibility that, for some purposes, these dimensions may be combined to provide a higher-level summary measure of patients' pain experience. We conclude that these dimensions should be kept distinct when assessing patients in general, although for a single type of patient (such as palliative care patients), it may be possible to regard intensity and interference as contributing to an overall measure of pain severity. Pain intensity and interference are highly correlated but represent clinically distinct and important dimensions. For clinical trials, a single "severity" summary score is proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1608-1620
Number of pages13
Issue number7
Early online date28 Feb 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2011

Bibliographical note

The European Palliative Care Research Collaborative is funded by the European Commission’s Sixth Framework Programme (Contract No LSHC-CT-2006-037777) with the overall aim to improve treatment of pain, depression, and fatigue through translation research. Core scientific group/work package leaders: Stein Kaasa (project coordinator), Frank Skorpen, Marianne Jensen Hjermstad, and Jon Håvard Loge, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU); Geoffrey Hanks, University of Bristol; Augusto Caraceni and Franco De Conno, Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori, Milan; Irene Higginson, King’s College London; Florian Strasser, Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen; Lukas Radbruch, RWTH Aachen University; Kenneth Fearon, University of Edinburgh; Hellmut Samonigg, Medical University of Graz; Ketil Bø, Trollhetta AS, Norway; Irene Rech-Weichselbraun, Bender MedSystems GmbH, Austria; Odd Erik Gundersen, Verdande Technology AS, Norway. Scientific advisory group: Neil Aaronson, The Netherlands Cancer Institute; Vickie Baracos and Robin Fainsinger, University of Alberta; Patrick C. Stone, St. George’s University of
London; Mari Lloyd-Williams, University of Liverpool. Project management:
Stein Kaasa, Ola Dale, and Dagny F. Haugen, NTNU.


  • Pain dimensionality
  • Pain intensity
  • Pain interference
  • Pain severity


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