Preventable Deaths: Physicians are Dismissing Women’s Pain

A study that took place between 2003 to 2013 reported 8,243 preventable deaths in Wales and England. All indications pointed to the poor quality of care that women received in comparison to men after suffering a heart attack. These statistics were originally reported in the September issue of The Conversation.

One in Ten Women Have Endometriosis

A 2001 article, The Girl Who Cried Pain, states that if men and women present similar symptoms, men are more likely to be prescribed pain-relieving drugs whereas women are more likely to receive sedatives. This suggests that women are believed to be more hysterical when they are ill.

Writer Abby Norman became mysteriously ill and had to see several doctors before she was given the diagnosis of endometriosis. She experienced the usual comments from the doctors that her symptoms were psychosomatic.

When a woman’s pain is dismissed, it leads to delays in treatment for conditions such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome.

Children and young adults are similarly affected by physicians’ dismissal of chronic pain.

However, the gender gap is worse for black women who are even more vulnerable to pain dismissal by physicians. A survey found that more than fifty percent of females responding to the study were told their pain was psychosomatic.

In the United Kingdom, a survey was conducted by a women’s charity that funds research relating to women’s health. As with other studies, the researchers found that more than half of respondents felt their pain was dismissed or simply ignored by the health care professional.

Women in other regions of the world reported similar experiences. There is every indication of a true gender gap when we consider comparing the attention given to women’s pain compared to men’s pain.

For example, women are not as likely as men to be given a positive outcome for such chronic conditions as musculoskeletal pain or angina.

About Stereotypes

It is suggested that gender stereotypes may be one of the reasons women’s pain is underestimated. The stereotypes are widely held by many people in healthcare including healthcare professionals. Women are perceived to be emotionally expressive when in pain and men as being “stoic”.

A misconception is that men do not seek treatment for pain unless the pain is severe. Therefore, it is believed that if a man seeks help for pain then he must receive treatment. This has proven to be wrong. Research shows that men are just as likely to go to a doctor if they are experiencing pain as women. Women are given credit for tolerating pain because of the pain that occurs in childbirth and menstruation.

Again, we are observing stereotypes regarding women’s pain which is viewed as “normal” and perhaps the reason it is not taken seriously.

One of the recent studies involved healthcare professionals watching videos of male and female patients with chronic shoulder pain. The practitioners generally underestimated women’s pain. They also suggested only the women would be helped by psychotherapy, not the men.

Studies have found that healthcare professionals are at times more likely to prescribe sedatives rather than pain medications to female patients.

Women in the UK have not been equally represented in clinical trials or medical research. As of 2024, new general practitioners entering healthcare will receive mandatory training in women’s health.

Comparing conditions that mostly affect women to conditions that mostly affect men, there are disparities in funding and medical research. The aforesaid pain gap cannot be resolved until these issues are settled.

How to Resolve the Pain Gap Issue

Pain is not something anyone should have to endure. A patient must ensure he or she is heard.

One suggestion is to describe your pain to the practitioner and how it affects your ability to function. Use a diary to keep track of your pain and symptoms. Be sure to take it to the consultation.

If possible, you can have a discussion about the bias in pain management. You should also ask your doctor to note why he or she has not referred you to a specialist. This may help you if you return to his or her office at a later date with the same symptoms

Be sure to ask permission for a family member or friend to accompany you at the consultation. In the United Kingdom, you can request a patient advocate who will assist you in getting proper care.

In summary ensuring sufficient funding for women’s conditions, improved training for practitioners and increasing awareness will help to ensure that women who are experiencing pain are not dismissed.

Rose Duesterwald

Rose Duesterwald

Rose became acquainted with Patient Worthy after her husband was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) six years ago. During this period of partial remission, Rose researched investigational drugs to be prepared in the event of a relapse. Her husband died February 12, 2021 with a rare and unexplained occurrence of liver cancer possibly unrelated to AML.

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