Is There a Gender Bias Against Female Patients That Are Suffering From Chronic Pain?

Are doctors biased against women suffering from chronic pain? There are plenty of examples that show that women are discriminated against when it comes to health care. Many of them involve pain or the use of an emergency room. However, plenty of people claim that such a bias does not exist.

Table of Content

S. No.
1.Doctors Tend to Be More Skeptical Toward Women
2.Women Experience Pain Differently Than Men
3.Women Are Quick to See a Doctor in Case of Pain
4.Shifting the Approach Toward Women in Chronic Pain

Sadly, it appears that the medical staff does not treat men and women equally when it comes to issues involving pain. A study conducted in 2000 showed that doctors tend to describe chronic pain in women as psychogenic or caused by mental distress (1). The study also outlined that this type of bias was most often evident in an urgent situation(1).

The bias in question is present all over the world and appears among both male and female medics. As a result, women do not receive the same medical care as men. Consequently, that can lead to a lot of problems, especially in an emergency room setting.

Doctors Tend to Be More Skeptical Toward Women

Plenty of women have reported that doctors dismiss their symptoms. The patient hears that the pain they are experiencing is something that is only going on in their head. Such an attitude is seldom displayed toward men. All studies show that women are more emotional than men. That might be enough for doctors not to take any pain complaints seriously.

However, the problem might be deeper than simple bias. Women have long been neglected when it comes to chronic pain. It is difficult to say with certainty if the problem is the inherent bias, the lack of proper research done on women, or the difference between sexes when processing pain is concerned.

A different study showed that women in emergency rooms often do not receive the medical care they need (2). They usually have to wait longer to see a doctor than men do. Women are also less likely to receive urgent attention(2).

It is hard to determine if the inherent bias is the only thing to blame, as some fault may lie in the way medics approach the topic of pain in women. For example, if a woman comes to the hospital because of pain, most doctors assume that the issue is gynecological. As a result, she does not receive proper medication since doctors think it is less likely for a gynecological disease to require opioids.

Women Experience Pain Differently Than Men

Science tells you that women are more capable of enduring pain than men. However, it also shows that women are more prone to chronic pain conditions. You can see how a biased doctor can be a problem — pain levels are subjective and can only be self-reported. To provide the correct treatment, doctors must trust their patients and not dismiss any symptoms.

Women feel pain in a different way than men, and there is a biological reason for that. Estrogen alters both the body’s reaction to medication and the perception of pain itself. To treat a patient, doctors must tailor their approach to their gender. However, much more research is necessary to accurately determine the specific differences between men and women when it comes to pain.

Another study shows that women get a very different treatment than men when it comes to pain (3). For example, females are less likely to receive painkillers if they are experiencing acute pain(3). Moreover, women tend to receive medication a lot later in comparison to men(3).

On the other hand, women are much more likely to receive anti-anxiety drugs when they arrive at a hospital with pain complaints. As you already know, doctors often believe that mental distress is the main cause of pain in women.

Worst of all, a study from 2008 showed that women in emergency rooms have to wait an average of 16 more minutes to get pain medication (4). On top of that, they are less likely to receive it than men(4). Clearly, this shows that pain in women does not get proper attention, especially when its cause is unknown(4).

Women Are Quick to See a Doctor in Case of Pain

Data shows that women are much more likely to seek medical attention than men. Research in the UK found out that men contact their doctors 32% less than women. This information could be key to understanding why doctors tend to dismiss complaints made by women.

However, you can find evidence that women are just as likely to complain about certain types of pain as men. An experiment showed that men and women are equally likely to report two of the most common types of pain — headaches and back pain. On the other hand, some studies say women have a lower tolerance for pain than men. Many doctors are quick to point those out.

Other research showed that women who suffer from depression and anxiety are much more likely to develop an opioid addiction. If you take this into account, it might be better to use anti-anxiety medication first, instead of handing women painkillers right away. If the anxiety stops, it will be easier to determine and treat the pain.

Shifting the Approach Toward Women in Chronic Pain

Given all those facts, it is hardly a surprise that many chronic pain conditions that still cannot be treated effectively are exclusive to women. Treatment of conditions like migraine, uterine fibroids, and fibromyalgia aims just to ease the pain. Therefore, the thought process surrounding them must change. People ought to focus on the actual treatment and prevention, not just on alleviating the symptoms.

Scientists who work on such treatments must be aware of the differences between men and women when it comes to experiencing pain. Research has shown that women have a lower pain tolerance than men. They are also more prone to medical conditions that cause chronic pain. The problem is that no one knows what the physical reason for any of that is.

To ensure effective treatment, all clinical trials must include an equal number of men and women. Since the effects on men and women can be very different, such an approach will guarantee the safety and efficiency of the treatment.

In the end, all signs point to the fact that there is clear gender bias against female patients who suffer from pain. Thus, doctors must step up and stop dismissing women’s conditions. Otherwise, the outcome might be very serious and even lethal.

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