A Pained Life: Gender Bias in Pain Treatment

A Pained Life: Gender Bias in Pain Treatment

The typical patient with chronic pain is a 55-year-old woman. The typical subject in a chronic pain study is an 8-week-old male mouse.

That was the finding of pain researcher Jeffrey Mogil at McGill University in Montreal in 2010.

A 2001 study in the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics found that women’s pain reports are taken less seriously than those of men and women receive less aggressive treatment for their pain than men.

bigstock-Rheumatism-31824317The subject of gender bias came up in an online pain discussion group in which I am a member.  I was intrigued and appalled at a comment made by one of the men.  After all, he wrote, since all pain patients tend to have difficulty being believed and diagnosed who really cares?  Why does it matter if there is gender bias?

It does matter, a lot.

It matters because stereotypes of women seem to be believed, even by a too large proportion of the medical and research community.

The common myth is wrong: Women can go through childbirth, they can really take pain. Estrogen lowers the pain threshold in women, testosterone raises it.

It matters because women have higher rates of diseases and disorders that have pain as a primary complaint.

It matters because studies have shown that women’s pain is taken less seriously than that of men. They not only have a harder time being believed, but a more difficult time being diagnosed and receiving appropriate and sufficient treatment, including medication.

It also matters because the media does not take it seriously.

In 2009, 2010 and 2011 my state senator agreed to bring forth a proclamation to proclaim September as Women in Pain Awareness Month.

Each year I sent out press releases and letters to media telling them about the need for the proclamation and asking them to cover the passage of the proclamation by the senate.  Only one reporter told me in a face to face conversation that she absolutely would cover it. She did a show on woman’s issues and this was an important subject.  But even she never came through.

I chose not to ask for another proclamation last year, deciding it was not worth the doing. A tree falling in the forest and no one hearing or caring.

I have been lucky.  For the most part I have been treated fairly and I think equally with my male pained counterparts.  Too many women have found this not to be the case.

Helen Reddy sang, “I am woman, hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore.”

Our numbers are large.  But it is hard to roar when you are in pain.  And honestly, we shouldn’t have to.

Our needs are as important, and as real, as men who live in pain.

The time is long past for there to be equality with men in research, studies, and in the treatment and consultation room.  As the adage says, better late than never.

Carol Levy

Carol Levy

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.”  Carol was accredited to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where she helped get chronic pain recognized as a disease.

Carol is the founder of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness”. Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that!  It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.

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Authored by: Carol Levy, Columnist

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John Quintner

@ Carol. I am all for “less aggressive treatment” in this context.

The important question for me is this: When up to 20% of the population report experiencing pain of a persistent nature (i.e. chronic pain), why are so many people being stigmatized?

Perhaps you provide answers to this complex question in your book.

However, an analysis of this issue is also contained in our recently published paper: Cohen ML, Quintner JL, Buchanan D, Nielsen M, Guy L. Stigmatization of patients with chronic pain: the extinction of empathy. Pain Medicine 2011; 12: 1637-1643.

The paper can be freely downloaded either from the website of Painaustralia (go to Health Professionals, and then to Research from Australia) or from the Pain Information Community of Practice, on the website of the newly established Carpool Health.

The main reason for this stigmatization might in fact be traceable to inadvertent behaviours of health professionals in the course of their clinical engagements with people in pain. Now this is something that could be rectified!