When physicians dismiss women's pain

Physicians are more likely to ignore women when they express pain and women wait longer to receive appropriate treatment or do not receive it at all, The Washington Post reported Dec. 13.

Doubts about women's pain can affect treatment for heart problems, stroke, reproductive health, chronic illness and physical pain.

In some cases, women have sued physicians for ignoring their pain. In one case, dozens of women sued New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University after physicians ignored their pain experienced during an egg harvesting procedure at its infertility clinic. The women were supposed to receive fentanyl but actually received diluted pain medication or none at all. Later, the clinic discovered a nurse was stealing fentanyl and replacing it with saline solution.

Physicians can be prone to thinking women expressing pain are overreacting, Roger Fillingim, PhD, director of the Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence at the University of Florida in Gainesville, told the Post. A study found women tend to be more sensitive to pain and more likely to express it.

Nevertheless, "you treat the pain that the patient has, not the pain that you think the patient should have," Dr. Fillingim said.

Here are five other pain-related findings:

  1. The Journal of the American Heart Association found that women who visited emergency departments with chest pain waited 29 percent longer than men to be evaluated for possible heart attacks.

  2. An analysis of 981 emergency room visits showed that women with acute abdominal pain were 25 percent less likely to be treated with opioid painkillers.

  3. A study showed that middle-age women with chest pain and other symptoms of heart disease were twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness compared with men who had the same symptoms.

  4. A 2016 study found half of white medical students and residents held at least one false belief about biological differences between Blacks and whites and were more likely to underestimate Black patients' pain.

  5. A survey found nearly 95 percent of U.S. medical school students said instruction on sex and gender differences in medicine should be included in curriculums. But only 43 percent said their curriculum included those differences, and only 34.5 percent said they felt prepared to manage them in a healthcare setting.

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