The ‘Real Women, Real Pain’ campaign by the International Association for Study of Pain aimed to raise awareness of pain and pain-related issues affecting women around the world. Gender differences in pain have been a subject of great interest to researchers. The physiological and psychological perception of pain is different in men and women. Medical literature has established the fact that many of the musculoskeletal pain conditions are more prevalent in women. Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Osteoporosis and Chronic Back Pain are a few examples of such conditions.
It is unfortunate that the gender differences are also reported in seeking treatment and the type of treatment. The psychosocial and physiological factors, coupled with the socio-economic factors, often lead to several women being untreated or undertreated for chronic pain conditions. Studies have reported that women’s pain is taken less seriously than men’s, thereby, women receive less aggressive treatment than men for their pain. This differentiation is done not just by the members of the family but also by the healthcare providers. Many such pain are considered as psychological or emotional pain, in other words, “all in her mind”. This further prevents such patients from seeking medical treatment which can lead to emotional distress.
The common barriers in seeking appropriate treatment in India are:
- Better pain tolerance
- Financial dependency: There is a feeling that they are burdening their male counterpart financially by seeking medical treatment.
- Lack of support or understanding: Many chronic pain conditions have vague symptoms and the patients are unable to express it. This often leads to a lack of understanding from the family members.
- Inability to communicate to the treating doctor: Language and gender barrier often leads to under-treatment
- Underlying psychological issues
Women should recognise their pain at the onset itself and seek appropriate management. Neglect often leads to chronicity. In case of chronic pain, apart from thorough medical examination by the treating doctor, underlying psychological issues like stress at home or work and/or lack of sleep should also be addressed for optimal outcome.
This quote by Aristotle “Equality consists in the same treatment of similar persons” clearly suggests the way forward in recognizing the painful conditions in women and treating them appropriately.
The writer, Dr. Sarawati Vishwanathan, is a Consultant – Orthopaedics and Pain Management at Narayana Medical Centre, Langford Town Bangalore.