Various studies have found that women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain diseases, suffer more severe pain and tolerate pain less well than men. Despite a growing body of information about chronic pain, however, many women still report that doctors often dismiss their pain as being “hormonal” or “all in their head.” Too often, the recommended “treatment” is sedatives and referrals for psychiatric counseling. In short, women hurt more and are helped less.
It is estimated that more than 40 million U.S. women are challenged daily with persistent pain. Without proper medical management, this pain often leads to a lifetime of physical and emotional distress, disability, financial ruin, social isolation and depression. Suicide is common among women with severe pain.
For Grace is dedicated to addressing this disturbing trend by empowering women to become better advocates for their pain care, informing heath care professionals about the gender disparity in pain treatment and educating public policy makers.
Our founder and spokesperson, Cynthia Toussaint, was left bedridden for nearly a decade because she was told by her doctors her pain was not real. She has survived five challenging diseases for 30 years in order to tell her story for those who do not have a voice. Also, For Grace has assembled a Women in Pain Leadership Circle, comprised of national pain experts who can speak about the gender disparity issue from a personal, clinical and research perspective.
Chronic pain is pain that lasts for months or years as a result of a chronic condition or lingers more than the usual recovery period for an illness. This includes common medical problems such as arthritis and migraine headaches as well as conditions such as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, fibromyalgia, Interstitial Cystitis and Lupus.
Chronic pain causes sufferers to endure many hardships including loss of work or forced disability leave from work, loss of mobility and independence, strain on personal relationships and psychological stress.
According to the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA), more than 80 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pain. Each year, Americans lose nearly $100 billion due to reduced productivity, sick time and medical costs associated with chronic pain (National Institute of Health, “New Direction in Pain Research,” Washington, D.C., GPO. 1998).
Chronic pain plagues people from all walks of life; however, women are statistically most prone to illnesses involving chronic pain. Despite the multitudes who suffer, women face a gender bias in pain treatment and management, remaining conspicuously under-diagnosed.
According to a landmark study published in the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, women’s pain reports are taken less seriously than men’s, and women receive less aggressive treatment for their pain.
Gender inequities in pain diagnosis and treatment must be exposed and understood. Doctors must understand that women’s pain is tactile, not psychological.
Medical students must be properly educated in pain management and aware of the discrepancies in treatment in order for tomorrow’s doctors to treat today’s problems.
Physician’s groups and government organizations, such as the Office of Women’s Health, must take pain management seriously and move to provide equitable treatment for all those who suffer.
“If I had a nickel for every time I was told that the pain was in my head or that I must be stressed or depressed, I would be rich instead of on the verge of losing my house.” —Deborah Bernardy, #4376
“Chronic pain may not be a fatal disease, but despair can be and is not necessary with adequate treatment of pain.” —Nancy Petersen, #3283
“I, also, suffer from pain because of a bone desease, and can get no help. I now treat myself with vodka at night before bed.” —Darlina Anthony, #2854
“The comments that uneducated physicians provide their female patients with chronic pain lead to hopelessness and depression, which, in turn, exacerbates the pain. It is definitely time for the bias to stop; let physicians adhere to their motto: ‘first, do no harm.’” —Megan Mills, PhD, #2758
“My doctor refused to see me because I brought in a book and asked questions.” —Connie Brown, #2762
“If I am in complete desperate pain, I know not to seek help until I can get my emotions under control or I will be told my crying is a symptom of emotional distress, not true physical need.” —Tristin, #2917
“As a nurse and health professional who has suffered with pain for years, I know firsthand women are treated ineffectively, often for their complaints of pain.” —Mary Pat Conley, RN, BSN, #938
“I knew an old lady that cried because of the pain she was in. Doctors did not believe her. She committed suicide. Her name was also Betty—and she lived at Woodside Avenue in Queens, NY” —Betty Fernbacker, #2153
“This discrimination is centuries old, but now is the time to stop!” —Marty Byers-Smith., PhD, #1970
“When I finally got adequate pain relief I began achieving success and joy for the first time at age 50! I have had serious pain since childhood due to a birth defect. I’m making up for lost time now.” —June Eberhart, #3719