Are Women at Risk for Poor Care in Pain Management?

female doctor shaking hands with female patient
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Chances are that someone in your family lives with chronic pain, whether it is your mother, grandfather, or you yourself. You are also probably aware that it is not just minor pain lasting over a handful of months, but a physical change inside the nervous system that actually has the capability of shrinking the brain. Chronic pain does not discriminate between men and women, so why is there evidence that its treatment does?

Pain Management in Men vs. Women

Current studies suggest that women with chronic pain frequently miss proper treatments. Canadian researchers recently found that men were more likely to be treated with lipid-lowering drugs, get angiograms, and have coronary artery bypass surgery than women. It didn’t matter that both sides were suffering heart attacks.

Women have also been found to be less likely to be admitted to intensive care than men. When admitted, they have a decreased likelihood to get specific procedures done. Add to that fact that women are more likely to die in the intensive care units or the hospital and things begin to seem a bit strange.

In 2007, a study in Rhode Island evaluated a sample of 30 men and 30 women, all with coronary artery bypass surgery. The study looked at the medications that were given. The researchers were shocked at the results. Men were given pain medications.

What were women given? Sedatives. They weren’t even given the same medications for the same surgery.

When It Comes to Chronic Pain Issues, Women's Symptoms Are Minimized

Georgetown University researchers came up with a genius study in 1999 to investigate unconscious bias between the sexes. The study involved recording professional actors playing people with chest pain.

The researchers shared the video with more than 700 primary care physicians along with some data about each of the patients.

It was clear that doctors didn’t believe the women had heart disease most of the time, whereas they were more likely to believe the diagnosis in men. In a similar study, European researchers found old records of more than 3000 heart patients, with 42 percent of the patients being women. The records suggested that the women were not treated as thoroughly as the men.

The same information was found in a 2000 Mayo Clinic study of 2,000 patients who went to the emergency room complaining of chest pain. It is a bit understandable that heart attacks and chest pain are difficult to diagnose since men and women usually present different symptoms. Even less complicated issues show that there are different treatments for genders. This does not, however, excuse a discrepancy in testing,hospital admission, and treatment between genders for other causes of chronic pain.

Women Are Less Likely to Undergo Surgery

According to a former Olympic rower turned orthopedic, women are three times less likely to get the hip or knee surgery they need.

If they have surgery, they often face something called the “never-catch-up-syndrome,” in which they don’t recover as well as men. Rather than being an inherent characteristic of the female sex, this syndrome is usually due to the fact that men usually get surgery before the pain gets to the point of being extreme. In contrast, women usually are forced to wait longer before getting the surgery they need.

Canadian researchers looked into this in a 2008 study. They asked 38 family physicians and 33 orthopedic surgeons to look at a typical male and female patient with moderate knee arthritis. The study revealed that with their own self-judgment the doctors had much higher odds of telling a man to get a knee replacement than a woman.

A 2008 study in Philadelphia also revealed that women aren’t treated as much or as well as they should be for abdominal pain. Men and women came in with similar pain scores, yet the men were much more likely to get pain medications. The men also got their medications more quickly. Sadly, this is also the truth when it comes to cancer and AIDS.

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