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Bridging the Gender Pain Gap: Victoria Launches Inquiry into Women's Pain

Gender bias in healthcare has long been a topic of concern for many. Despite the strides made towards gender equality in recent years, there is still much work to be done in this field. Women's health disparities, in particular, have been a theme of much discussion, with issues ranging from menstrual health to reproductive health coming to light in recent years.


One area that has been neglected in these discussions is the topic of women's pain. Accurate diagnosis and adequate treatment of pain is crucial for maintaining an individual's quality of life, but too often, women are left to suffer in silence. That's why Victoria has launched an inquiry into women's pain to bridge the gender pain gap and address the healthcare inequalities faced by women.


Bridging the Gender Pain Gap: Victoria Launches Inquiry into Women's Pain
Explore women's health and the Victorian inquiry focused on bridging the gender pain gap.

Key Takeaways

  • Women face significant healthcare disparities in pain management

  • Gender bias in healthcare contributes to the gender pain gap, leaving women to suffer in silence

  • Victoria's inquiry into women's pain aims to promote gender equality in pain management

  • Inadequate pain management has a significant impact on women's quality of life

  • Addressing gender health disparities in pain management is crucial for improving the overall health of women


Women's Pain Disparities: A Closer Look

Women's pain disparities are an issue that has been largely ignored by the medical community for decades. However, recent research on women's pain management has shed light on the gendered nature of pain management and the inequalities women face in pain treatment.


According to women's pain research, women tend to experience chronic pain more frequently than men.


Fillingim and others (2009) conducted a thorough review of recent literature on sex differences in clinical pain, experimental pain sensitivity, and responses to pain treatment. Several conclusions can be drawn from the available evidence.


Firstly, women generally experience a higher prevalence of most common forms of pain compared to men (Ibid.). Women also report greater pain after invasive procedures like surgery, though these findings are not consistently observed (Ibid.).


Secondly, women tend to exhibit enhanced sensitivity to experimentally induced pain, excluding ischemic pain (Ibid.). Ischemic pain is usually associated with pain resulting from inadequate blood supply to a specific organ or tissue. Recent studies, using more clinically relevant experimental pain models, have highlighted women's increased sensitivity (Ibid.). This has included greater temporal summation indicating heightened sensitivity to repeated or prolonged pain stimulation (Ibid.). Women have also been found to experience pain and higher pain levels after intramuscular injection of algesic substances (Ibid.).


Additionally, emerging evidence suggests that men may demonstrate greater Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control (DNIC) (Ibid.). This suggests men are more likely to be able to suppress or modulate pain better by the application of a noxious (painful) stimulus to another part of the body. This process involves complex neural pathways and is thought to be mediated by the release of certain neurotransmitters within the spinal cord. This suggests an underlying physiological gender difference in pain processing.


The data on sex differences in responses to analgesic medications are varied, making general conclusions challenging.


The review also discusses various biological and psychosocial mechanisms contributing to sex differences in pain and analgesic responses, including gonadal hormones, endogenous pain modulatory systems, gender roles, and cognitive/affective factors.


Gender Bias in Women's Healthcare

Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that women's pain conditions are sometimes dismissed, underestimated, or misdiagnosed in clinical settings. For instance, let's consider research on delays on the diagnosis of endometriosis.


Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. Endometriosis affects around one in nine women, transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse people assigned female at birth in Australia by the age of 44, with an estimated diagnostic delay of between 6.4 and 8 years (Armour and others, 2022). Similarly, an overseas study reviewing the diagnostic delay in women with pain and endometriosis found women with endometriosis often experience significant delays in diagnosis, and their pain is sometimes attributed to normal menstrual discomfort. (Husby and others, 2003).


These studies collectively suggest that there may be systemic issues leading to the dismissal or misdiagnosis of women's pain conditions. Gender biases, stereotypes, and gaps in understanding women's health contribute to disparities in pain assessment and treatment. It's essential for healthcare professionals to be aware of these issues and work towards providing equitable and comprehensive care for all patients.


This can be attributed to the gender bias in healthcare that perpetuates the notion that women are overly emotional or exaggerating their symptoms. As a result, women often receive inadequate pain treatment and suffer in silence.


The gender inequalities in pain treatment have led to significant health disparities for women, who are forced to endure pain that affects their quality of life and ability to work. These disparities are further compounded for women of colour or those from marginalised communities, who face additional barriers that prevent them from accessing adequate pain care.

"Gender bias has long been evident in pain research and pain management"

With these challenges in mind, it is critical that we address women's pain disparities head-on through increased awareness and advocacy. Healthcare providers must acknowledge the gender biased practices that contribute to the disparities and undertake pain management strategies that account for women's unique pain experiences. By addressing women's pain needs, we can promote gender equality in pain care and work towards a healthier, more inclusive society.


Advocating for Women's Pain Awareness and Management

Women's pain advocacy is essential for increasing awareness and improving the management of women's pain. Pain awareness for women is crucial, as studies have shown that women tend to experience pain differently than men and are often undertreated for their pain.


Thankfully, there are various women's pain management initiatives aimed at addressing this issue. One such initiative is the "Endo What?" campaign, which aims to increase awareness and education about endometriosis, a painful condition that affects about 1 in 10 women of reproductive age.


iflow Psychology has also offers women's mental health services including a Chronic Pain Management Program, which is designed to provide support and education for women with chronic pain. The program teaches pain management strategies, including mindfulness, relaxation, and cognitive-behavioural techniques. iflow Psychology also offers a free guide on pain: A to Z of Effective Pain Management Therapy.


By advocating for women's pain awareness and management, we can help women receive the proper care and treatment they deserve. Together, we can work towards closing the gender pain gap and promoting gender equality in healthcare.


Addressing Gender Bias in Pain Treatment

Gender disparity in pain management is a real issue that needs to be addressed.


In their extensive literature review, Samulowitz et al. (2018) examined a wide range of studies revealing diverse gendered norms relating to men's and women's perceptions and expressions of pain, as well as their identity, lifestyle, and coping strategies. The review identified instances of gender bias in pain treatment, both within the patient-provider interaction and in the decisions made by healthcare professionals.


For example, adherence to gender norms such as the belief that "men should be physically strong" may lead to the assumption that engaging in active leisure is more crucial for men than for women. Consequently, healthcare professionals might recommend men to persist in sports activities despite experiencing pain, while not extending the same advice to women.


Another illustration involves the perception of women as primary caregivers responsible for family and household duties (Ibid.), potentially influencing professionals to advise women, but not men, to prioritise family over work and leisure time (Ibid.).


FitzGerald, C., & Hurst, S. (2017) also conducted a review that examined evidence regarding implicit biases among healthcare professionals. They focused on negative evaluations based on irrelevant characteristics like race or gender. After reviewing 42 eligible articles they determined healthcare professionals exhibit similar levels of implicit bias as the general population. Correlational evidence indicated a positive relationship between implicit bias levels and lower quality of care.


The findings emphasised the importance of addressing implicit biases in healthcare to reduce disparities. Recognising and understanding gendered norms holds significance, both within research and clinical practice, to actively address gender bias in healthcare. This awareness is crucial in empowering healthcare professionals to deliver more equitable and responsive care, catering to the diverse needs of all patients, irrespective of gender.


It's important to recognise and address gender bias in pain treatment to bridge the gender pain gap effectively. Healthcare providers need to give women the same level of care and attention paid to men when it comes to chronic pain relief. Pain management strategies should be tailored to women's specific health needs, taking into account biological differences and the unique experiences of gendered pain.

Women's Healthcare Disparities

Gender Disparities in Pain Management

Women are more likely to report health problems, yet studies show that healthcare providers are less likely to take their concerns seriously. This leads to delayed treatment and diagnosis, ultimately affecting the prognosis of medical conditions.

Studies suggest that women are more likely to experience gender bias in diagnosis and pain management, compared to men with the same level of pain intensity. This makes it difficult for women to carry out daily activities, affecting their overall quality of life.

Understanding the gender disparities in pain management is the first step in improving pain relief options for women. Healthcare providers can implement gender-aware policies that ensure equitable pain management for all patients, regardless of gender. Addressing women's healthcare disparities requires a concerted effort from healthcare providers and policymakers alike, to provide better support and resources to women.


Victoria's Launch of the Inquiry into Women's Pain

Victoria has launched an inquiry into women's pain, recognising the gender disparities that exist in pain management and healthcare. The inquiry seeks to address these disparities and promote gender equality in pain relief for women. By shedding light on these issues, Victoria hopes to inspire a much-needed change in the way women's pain is understood and treated.


Closing the Gender Pain Gap: Victoria's Inquiry

The inquiry into the gender pain gap follows research that revealed two in five Victorian women live with chronic pain.


The inquiry is particularly important given the significant impact of pain on women's lives. Women often experience higher levels of chronic pain than men and can face barriers in accessing appropriate pain relief. Furthermore, gendered attitudes towards pain can lead to women's pain being dismissed or downplayed, causing unnecessary suffering and perpetuating gender biases in healthcare.


The launch of this inquiry is a positive step towards addressing these longstanding issues and ensuring that women receive the pain relief and healthcare they deserve.


Understanding the Impact of Gendered Pain Experiences

Chronic pain is a prevalent condition among women, affecting their quality of life, daily activities, and mental health. Women's chronic pain experiences are influenced by various factors, including biology, psychological and social factors, and cultural and gender roles.


Unfortunately, gender disparities in pain management often impede adequate pain relief and contribute to worsening pain outcomes for women. Women's pain is frequently invalidated, ignored or undertreated, exacerbating the stress associated with chronic pain and significantly impeding their daily activities.


"I remember going to the doctor and telling him that I was always in pain, and I was always sick. He seemed indifferent, and just suggested a few simple pain relief solutions I had already tried and that were ineffective." - Sarah, chronic pain patient


The Importance of Gendered Pain Management

Healthcare providers' awareness of gendered pain experiences and the societal biases surrounding pain is an essential step towards providing appropriate pain management to women. Accountable, comprehensive, and gender-responsive pain management programs enhance trust between patients and providers and promote optimal patient outcomes.


Compelling evidence also suggests that observed sex differences in pain responses can be attributed to biological distinctions. Both genetic and hormonal factors serve as sex-specific pain mediators. Research indicates that women's pain experiences are influenced by factors such as the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and oral contraceptive use, underscoring the connection between hormones and pain response (Samulowitz et al., 2018).


Gender norms, conditioning and gender role expectations also influence perception and report of pain.


Pain Relief Strategies for Women

Pain Relief Strategy

Description

Complementary Medicine

Complementary therapies, like acupuncture, massage, and relaxation techniques, can offer effective, relief-oriented, non-pharmacological drug therapies that are safe for women.

Mental Health Support

Psychological support and strategies for pain management are necessary and should be the first consideration for chronic pain. The identification and treatment of mental health disorders, where present, in women with chronic pain can reduce the associated stress and generate positive outcomes.

Gender-Responsive Medical Treatment

Medical experts and health-care providers should offer gender-responsive treatment options by tailoring specific strategies that address the characteristics of pain experience in women, emphasising trauma-informed care, and incorporating women's voices in treatment decision-making.

Women's pain experiences have been widely neglected and understudied, which must change if we are to bridge the gender pain gap. Gendered pain experiences contribute to women's high rates of chronic pain, disability, and impaired quality of life - pain management options that account for and address these differences will make for more effective and humane care that supports full, healthy lives.


Improving Pain Treatment for Women: The Way Forward

If you're a woman dealing with chronic pain, you know first-hand the unique challenges and frustrations you face when seeking treatment. Unfortunately, gender disparities in pain management are all too common, with women often receiving suboptimal care and support compared to men.


The good news is that change is on the horizon. A range of pain management strategies specifically tailored to women are emerging, designed to address the gaps in women's pain care and promote gender equality in pain treatment.


Addressing Women's Pain Disparities

Improving pain treatment for women starts by acknowledging the existing disparities that are holding women back. For example, research has shown that women's pain is often misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and undertreated compared to men's pain. Women are also more likely to experience certain types of pain, such as migraines and fibromyalgia, which require specific management approaches.


One promising strategy for addressing these disparities is by increasing awareness amongst healthcare providers and patients about the unique nature of women's pain experiences.


Celik, Lagro-Janssen, Widdershoven, and Abma (2011) conducted a systematic review analysing the existing literature on the implementation of gender sensitivity in health care. The study reviewed 752 research articles from various databases. They identifying opportunities and barriers related to the professional, organisational, and policy levels. The findings of the review reveal that implementing gender sensitivity in healthcare involves tailoring strategies to address challenges and opportunities at multiple levels.


The study emphasised gender disparities are deeply embedded in healthcare systems, necessitating a comprehensive approach to effect change. The authors argue that conventional methods, which focus on isolated barriers or opportunities, are insufficient to prevent gender inequality in healthcare. Instead, they advocate for a holistic transformation of systems and structures, coupled with efforts to enhance understanding, raise awareness, and develop skills among healthcare professionals.


In conclusion, the research underscored the importance of a multifaceted approach to implement gender sensitivity in healthcare, addressing both systemic and individual factors. The study suggested that interventions aimed at promoting gender sensitivity should encompass a broad range of factors to bring about meaningful change in healthcare practices.


By educating healthcare providers about gender bias in pain management and the gendered nature of pain experiences, we can work together to ensure women receive more tailored and appropriate pain care.


Promoting Women's Pain Management Strategies

Another way to improve pain treatment for women is by promoting pain management strategies specifically designed for women. For example, mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, and physiotherapy have all been shown to be effective for managing women's pain, and can be used alongside traditional pain management approaches.


It's essential to remember that effective pain management strategies should be customised to the individual, taking into account their unique pain experiences, lifestyle, and healthcare needs.


The Future of Research

Interestingly, in the context of clinical research conducted in Australia, the overall representation of women appears equitable (Merone and others, 2022). A closer examination by specialty, however, revealed imbalances. Women are disproportionately represented in fields traditionally associated with female patients, such as psychiatry, while being notably underrepresented in specialties like cardiology and nephrology (Ibid.).


Despite an increasing number of female participants in medical research, there is evident over recruitment and under recruitment in specific clinical specialties. This skewed representation can perpetuate gender stereotypes, posing potential harm to women.


Until the late 1980s, cardiovascular disease (CVD) was perceived predominantly as a condition affecting men, as a limited number of large clinical trials included women (Hammond and others, 2007) . This resulted in a lack of comprehensive data documenting the relationship between established risk factors and gender. In recent times, healthcare professionals have not prioritised the dissemination of gender-specific information regarding CVD risks to women. Consequently, women tend to underestimate their risk of developing CVD, even when clear risk factors are present. Additionally, women are less inclined than men to identify the signs and symptoms of CVD, exhibit delays in seeking treatment, and are less likely to adopt healthy lifestyles. These factors collectively contribute to an increased incidence of mortality and morbidity in a disease that is largely preventable.


Even when women are appropriately represented, gender-based analyses are rarely conducted, prompting us to advocate for their requirement in journal publications.


Additionally, the exclusion of males from certain research areas may neglect essential aspects of men's health. For instance, doctors tend to “underdiagnose” psychiatric disturbance in males (Mant, 1983).


Furthermore, there remains a significant underrepresentation of intersex and gender non binary individuals in general medical research.


The Future of Women's Pain Care

As society becomes increasingly aware of the disparities in women's pain care, we are sure to see more initiatives aimed at improving women's pain treatment. From advocacy groups to government inquiries, there is increasing momentum to address the gender biases that have held women back for too long.


The way forward is clear: we must continue to educate ourselves and others about women's pain experiences, promote tailored pain management strategies for women, and advocate for gender equality in pain treatment. With these efforts, we can create a more equitable and supportive future for women dealing with chronic pain.


Conclusion

Now that you have a better understanding of the gender pain gap and the healthcare inequalities faced by women, it's essential to take action towards improving pain treatment for all. There are various pain relief options available that can help alleviate women's chronic pain. However, these options must be accessible to everyone, regardless of their gender, race, or social status.


The gender health disparities must be addressed to ensure that women receive adequate pain management and healthcare. It's crucial to advocate for pain awareness and management for women and promote gender equality in pain relief.


In conclusion, bridging the gender pain gap requires a collective effort to address gender bias in pain treatment and healthcare inequalities. Victoria's inquiry into women's pain is an essential step towards promoting gender equality in pain management and improving women's pain treatment. Let us take the necessary steps towards closing the gender pain gap and ensuring that everyone has access to adequate pain relief and healthcare.


FAQ

What is the purpose of the Victoria inquiry into women's pain?

The Victoria inquiry into women's pain aims to bridge the gender pain gap and address the gender disparities and healthcare biases that women face in pain management.


What are some examples of women's health disparities in pain treatment?

Women often experience gender biases in pain treatment, such as their pain being dismissed or downplayed by healthcare providers. Additionally, women may face longer wait times for diagnosis or treatment compared to men.


How does gender bias affect pain management for women?

Gender bias in pain management can lead to women receiving inadequate pain relief, being undertreated or overtreated for their pain, and facing challenges in accessing appropriate pain management options.


What initiatives are in place to advocate for women's pain awareness and management?

There are various initiatives aimed at increasing women's pain awareness and improving their access to appropriate pain management, including awareness campaigns, educational programs, and the development of gender-specific pain management strategies.


How can gender bias in pain treatment be addressed?

Addressing gender bias in pain treatment involves raising awareness among healthcare providers, implementing unbiased pain assessment and management protocols, and promoting gender equality in healthcare policies and practices.


Why is Victoria launching an inquiry into women's pain?

Victoria's inquiry into women's pain is crucial in highlighting the gender disparities in healthcare and pain management, promoting gender equality in healthcare access and treatment, and improving the overall health outcomes for women.


What are some challenges women face in pain management?

Women often face challenges in pain management, including a lack of research on gender-specific pain experiences, healthcare providers not giving enough attention or weight to women's pain, and inadequate treatment options for women's chronic pain.


How can pain treatment be improved for women?

To improve pain treatment for women, it is essential to develop gender-specific pain management strategies, conduct more research on women's pain experiences, provide comprehensive pain education to healthcare professionals, and ensure equitable access to pain relief options.


How can the gender pain gap be closed effectively?

Closing the gender pain gap requires addressing healthcare inequalities, advocating for gender equality in pain care, conducting gender-based pain research, and implementing policies and practices that prioritise women's pain relief and management.


References

Armour, M., Avery, J., Leonardi, M., Van Niekerk, L., Druitt, M. L., Parker, M. A., Girling, J. E., McKinnon, B., Mikocka-Walus, A., Ng, C. H. M., O’Hara, R., Ciccia, D., Stanley, K., & Evans, S. (2022). Lessons from implementing the Australian National Action Plan for Endometriosis. Reproduction and Fertility, 3(3), C29-C39. Retrieved Jan 22, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.1530/RAF-22-0003


Celik, H., Lagro-Janssen, T. A. L. M., Widdershoven, G. G. A. M., & Abma, T. A. (2011). Bringing gender sensitivity into healthcare practice: A systematic review. Patient Education and Counseling, 84(2), 143-149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2010.07.016


Fillingim, R. B., King, C. D., Ribeiro-Dasilva, M. C., Rahim-Williams, B., & Riley, J. L. (2009). Sex, gender, and pain: A review of recent clinical and experimental findings. The Journal of Pain, 10(5), 447-485. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2008.12.001


FitzGerald, C., & Hurst, S. (2017). Implicit bias in healthcare professionals: A systematic review. BMC Medical Ethics, 18(1), 19. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12910-017-0179-8


Hammond, J., Salamonson, Y., Davidson, P., Everett, B., & Andrew, S. (2007). Why do women underestimate the risk of cardiac disease? A literature review. Australian Critical Care, 20(2), 53-59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aucc.2007.02.001


Husby, G. K., Haugen, R. S., & Moen, M. H. (2003). Diagnostic delay in women with pain and endometriosis. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 82(7), 649–653. https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1600-0412.2003.00168.x


Mant, A., Broom, D. H., & Duncan-Jones, P. (1983). The path to prescription: Sex differences in psychotropic drug prescribing for general practice patients. Social Psychiatry, 18, 185–192. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00583529


Merone, L., Tsey, K., Russell, D., & Nagle, C. (2022). Mind the Gap: Reporting and Analysis of Sex and Gender in Health Research in Australia, a Cross-Sectional Study. Women's Health Reports, 3(1), 759-767.


Samulowitz, A., Gremyr, I., Eriksson, E., & Hensing, G. (2018). "Brave Men" and "Emotional Women": A Theory-Guided Literature Review on Gender Bias in Health Care and Gendered Norms towards Patients with Chronic Pain. Journal Title, Volume 2018, Article ID 6358624. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/6358624

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