Worldwide, most chronic pain sufferers are women. And yet, doctors consistently tend to dismiss pain reported by women.

In one study, doctors were shown videotapes of actors showing chest pain and given data about the hypothetical patients. The women were believed to have heart disease much less often than the men. Similarly, both a European study and the Mayo Clinic found that in heart patients, the women were given less thorough exams and tests.

This does not just apply to heart disease and chest pain, though. Women are a third less likely to get joint replacements than men. In one study, doctors were given charts of averaged men and women both with knee arthritis that could, but didn’t have to be, treated with surgery. The men were suggested to get surgery 22 times more than the women with identical knee pain. Another problem is that women tend to wait until the pain is more extreme, causing the surgery to not have as good an effect as if she had gotten it when the pain was moderate.

With abdominal pain women are 15-23% less likely to get pain medication, and on average have to wait 15 minutes longer in their appointment to get it. Women are also much more likely to be asked psychological questions and have the doctor decide their pain is “psychosomatic” or be told it’s “all in their heads.”

While this is a problem that will take years and years to fix, the fact that we are now becoming aware of it is a step in the right direction. Striking hysteria out of the DSM in 1980 was a good beginning, but we need a real change in medical culture to reach true gender equality in healthcare.

Foreman, Judy. “Why Women Are Living in the Discomfort Zone.” The Wall Street Journal. 31 January, 2014 link