As the song goes, “Everybody hurts,” but not everybody gets the same treatment. As with pay and promotions, women get short shrift when it comes to their pain being taken seriously. Women in pain get less treatment, wait longer for doctors, and generally get treated as second-class citizens. We believe it’s time for women in pain to be taken seriously and to get the treatment they deserve.
Women in pain – The numbers
A recent survey from the National Pain Report cited disturbing statistics regarding women in pain. Of the nearly 2,600 female respondents to the survey, just over 56% said they were sometimes treated differently because they were women. Another 27.5% felt that they were usually or always treated differently because of their gender. A full 65% felt that their doctors took them less seriously because they were women.
These anecdotal statistics are supported by hard numbers. Women feel more pain, more severe pain, and more frequent pain, but their pain is treated less aggressively than men’s. This is borne out by statistics cited in a 2001 study titled “The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women In The Treatment Of Pain.” The authors looked at whether or not women actually experience pain differently, why they are treated differently from men, and what changes need to occur to fix that.
These questions matter. Women are disproportionately affected by chronic pain. Around 50 million women in the U.S. are living with chronic pain. Some conditions grossly affect women in ridiculous proportions. Women are seven times more likely to suffer from fibromyalgia than men, and 90% of lupus cases in the U.S. are women.
Societal beliefs about pain
Given these numbers, one would expect more time and attention would be spent on finding treatments geared towards women. This is not the case. At the most basic level, the emergency room, men presenting in the E.R. with abdominal pain wait an average of 49 minutes for pain medicine. Women wait an average of 65 minutes for any pain relief, often being told that their pain isn’t that bad or that they are overreacting.
This may be due to the societal belief that women have higher pain thresholds than men. Childbirth is often used a joking “evidence” of this belief, but researchers at Bath University have found that women experience pain both physically and emotionally, making it worse.
Lead researcher Dr. Ed Keogh, a psychologist at the pain management unit at Bath University, believes that both the quantity and quality of women’s pain is greater than men’s. He also notes that traditional pain management advice may not help women cope with pain, saying:
“Women who concentrate on the emotional aspects of their pain may actually experience more pain as a result, possibly because the emotions associated with pain are negative…women experience a greater number of pain episodes across their lifespan than men, in more bodily areas and with greater frequency. Our research has shown that whilst the sensory-focused strategies used by men helped increase their pain threshold and tolerance of pain, it was unlikely to have any benefit for women.”
Medication research in women
Researchers from the Bath study believe that these dif