Women and pain


In Australia, 1.8 million women lived with chronic pain, however, they have often felt misunderstood.

According to a multidisciplinary expert group opinion paper on pain in women (Pain and Therapy, 2021), women are affected by pain diseases more frequently and severely than men, and they report pain more frequently and with a lower pain threshold.

A report PainAustralia commissioned in 2020 estimated that in Australia, 1.8 million women lived with chronic pain compared to 1.5 million men. It also found there were 168,000 women of working aged between 45 and 49 who were suffering from chronic pain.

While women represent such a big percentage of people experiencing pain, several studies support the claim that gender bias in medicine routinely leads to a denial of pain relief for female patients for a range of health conditions.

Articles have been published analysing the factors that contribute to this, pointing mostly at a systematic bias towards medical research involving males, as well as a prejudice towards women’s experience of pain, which can often be dismissed as psychological — a physical manifestation of stress, anxiety, or depression.

These gender biases occur in medical systems across the world. The European Society of Cardiology for instance, says that chest pain is misdiagnosed in women more frequently than in men. According to Dr Martinez-Nadal, ‘heart attack has traditionally been considered a male disease, and has been understudied, under-diagnosed, and under-treated in women, who may attribute symptoms to stress or anxiety. Both women and men with chest pain should seek medical help urgently.’

In Australia, journalist Gabrielle Jackson published her book Pain and Prejudice, which is part memoir, part polemic on the state of women’s health in today’s world. In it, Jackson describes her own experience with endometriosis. She confronts the private concerns and questions women face regarding their health and medical treatment.

Since most studies on pain have focused on men, broadly applying their findings to everyone can be dangerous, and reinforces the same gender disparities from which they arise.

The result of that would inevitably be that many more women stand to die or suffer in silence, without accessing the treatments they require and deserve in order to find adequate relief.

Acknowledging that women experience pain differently to men, is the first step to adequately manage this pain.

Ultimately, we all deserve a healthcare provider that we feel is listening to us and is believing what we’re saying.


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