Should Gender Bias in Pain Management Stop?

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woman lying on floor holding knees in severe pain

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is usually caused by an initial injury, such as a back sprain or pulled muscle. It’s believed that chronic pain develops after nerves become damaged. The nerve damage makes pain more intense and long lasting. In these cases, treating the underlying injury may not resolve the chronic pain.

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for over three months. The pain can be there all the time, or it may come and go. It can happen anywhere in your body.

Chronic pain can interfere with your daily activities, such as working, having a social life and taking care of yourself or others. It can lead to depression, anxiety and trouble sleeping, which can make your pain worse. This response creates a cycle that’s difficult to break.

What’s the Difference between Chronic Pain and Acute Pain?

Chronic pain differs from another type of pain called acute pain.

Acute pain happens when you suffer an injury such as experiencing a simple cut to your skin or a broken bone. It doesn’t last long, and it goes away after your body heals from whatever caused the pain.

In contrast, chronic pain continues long after you recover from an injury or illness. Sometimes it even happens for no obvious reason.

What does chronic pain feel like?

Pain is considered to be chronic if it lasts or comes and goes (recurs) for more than three months. Pain is usually a symptom, so your healthcare provider needs to determine what’s causing your pain, if possible. Pain is subjective — only the person experiencing it can identify and describe it — so it can be difficult for providers to determine the cause.

People with chronic pain describe their pain in many different ways, such as:

1. Aching
2. Burning
3. Shooting
4. Squeezing
5. Stiffness
6. Stinging
7. Throbbing

How Common is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is a very common condition, and one of the most common reasons why someone seeks medical care. Approximately 25% of adults in the United States experience chronic pain. Chronic pain affects a higher proportion of women than men around the world, however women are less likely to receive treatment.

Currently, there is no cure for chronic pain, other than to identify and treat its cause. For example, treating arthritis can sometimes stop joint pain. Many people with chronic pain don’t know its cause and can’t find a cure. They use a combination of medications, therapies and lifestyle changes to lessen pain.

Natural foods like turmeric and honey are popular for pain relief. The benefits of turmeric and honey are plenty including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. Both foods have been used for centuries as natural remedies for a variety of ailments. It’s also used as a natural remedy for soothing sore, dry, or scratchy throats.

4 Types of Pain more Common in Women than Men are:

Musculoskeletal Pain: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) cites many studies that have looked into the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain in men and women. In one study that spanned 17 countries on six continents with more than 85,000 participants, results showed that the occurrence of chronic pain is higher among females than males. Other studies from Europe and Australia also indicated that chronic musculoskeletal pain is more common in females than males.

Abdominal Pain: A number of studies have found a higher prevalence of abdominal pain in women. The NIH reports that there is approximately a 3-to-1 female-to-male ratio in the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome in the United States. This condition is characterized by recurring symptoms of abdominal pain and problems with bowel habits.

Headache: According to the Women’s Health Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, migraines are most common in women between the ages of 20 and 45. And women more than men report more painful and longer-lasting headaches with more associated symptoms, including nausea and vomiting.

In the NIH American Migraine Study II, which included more than 29,000 adults, it was estimated that the one-year prevalence of migraine in the U.S. is 18% in women and 7% in men.

Pelvic Pain: Studies have shown that pelvic pain more common in women have shown a history of some form of a history with sexual abuse of some kind. Cleveland Clinic pain psychologist Jill Mushkat Conomy, PhD., points out the following, specific to women and pain: “For women, issues of family stress, weight gain and sexuality can be front and center when it comes to the onset of pain. When meeting with patients, I share a long list of biological, psychological and social issues to consider to get the conversation started.”

Gender Bias in Pain Management Stop

Researchers found that when male and female patients expressed the same amount of pain, observers viewed female patients’ pain as less intense and more likely to benefit from psychotherapy versus medication as compared to men’s pain, exposing a significant patient gender bias that could lead to disparities in treatments.

Research has shown that women generally experience more recurrent pain, more severe pain and longer lasting pain than men and that pain experience differs for women and men. A new study suggests that when men and women express the same amount of pain, women’s pain is considered less intense based on gender stereotypes.

A Harvard study dictated: “These gender biases in our medical system can have serious and sometimes fatal repercussions. For instance, a 2000 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that women are seven times more likely than men to be misdiagnosed and discharged in the middle of having a heart attack. Why? Because the medical concepts of most diseases are based on understandings of male physiology, and women have altogether different symptoms than men when having a heart attack.”

Elizabeth Losin, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Social and Cultural Neuroscience lab at the University of Miami, “I think one critical piece of information that could be conveyed in medical curricula is that people, even those with medical training in other studies, have been found to have consistent demographic biases in how they assess the pain of male and female patients and that these biases impact treatment decisions.” Losin remarked “Critically, our results demonstrate that these gender biases are not necessarily accurate. Women are not necessarily more expressive than men, and thus their pain expression should not be discounted.”

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