Pain is a complex symptom, and when presented on its own can be a challenge to treat. Pain can indicate a much larger problem or can start out small (acute and faint) and can develop into chronic (long lasting) pain with very little else to go by. We know from literature that women presenting with pain at the emergency department will wait longer to receive any pain medications, as compared to men complaining of similar pain. And the drugs provided on the onset women are typically given sedatives, while men received pain medications. While we are not here to understand the reasoning behind these differences, there has been a strong focus in the last decade as to how women are treated medically for their pain.
It appears that while men often seek assistance from their family doctor once the pain has impacted their work, women tend to seek assistance (through social support and non medical avenues first then) through their family doctor very early on in the process as it impacts their daily lives (household work, child caring, sexual intercourse). Evidence has shown that the idea of pain, and the description of pain are dramatically different between men and women, thus the treatment outcomes too are dramatically different.
“Women with chronic pain may be particularly vulnerable in this traditional communication style and rebuffed by physicians in their attempt to express the multiple ways in which their pain affects the quality of their lives and their ability to function” – The girl who cried pain: A bias against women in the treatment of pain (Hoffman, Tarzian)
In conjunction, the pain they experience – if not a medical emergency – can range from reproductive issues, gastrointestinal issues (either physical or phycological), or all over body pain.
There are now new emerging diseases where pain is the only physical symptom, and these seem to affect women more. These illnesses are called ‘contested illnesses’ because there is a discrepancy between the clinical knowledge and the patient experience. This not only leaves the patient with unresolved pain – the main symptom – but it also puts the ownness on the patient to navigate their medical journey, scoping out various treatment methods to gain control over the pain and resume a good quality of life.
Anecdotal evidence has suggested that many women across Canada are challenged with access to physicians who understand such illnesses and more modern diagnostics. As such, these women need avenues in which they can mitigate pain while seeking potential treatment options from their physicians. This system is not to replace the more clinical treatment side, but to work in conjunction with clinical options to provide the patient with as many resources as we can.