Gender gap is the difference between women and men as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments or attitudes. For centuries, women have fought for equal rights and the gender gap has been a major concern mainly in four key areas: health, education, economics and politics.

What is the gender pain gap?

The same level of gender discrimination affects the quality of medical attention that we receive. Gender Pain Gap is the simple misconcept of believing that females can endure more pain considered to men thereby causing women to experience misdiagnosis and dismissal of medical concerns. One study published in Academic Emergency Medicine found that women who went to the emergency room (ER) with severe stomach pain had to wait for almost 33% longer than men with the same symptoms.

A landmark study performed at Maryland University called “The Girl Who Cried Pain.” showed that women often experience dismissal of their medical concerns, which leads to misdiagnosis, incorrect medicine dosages, delayed treatment, and general feelings of neglect.

The exact reason for how the Gender Pain Gap came to be is hard to pin down, but various studies indicate sexism, a lack of medical research on women, and gender-related differences in the experiences of pain.

Do females have higher pain tolerance?

The theory that states females have a higher pain tolerance is completely wrong. Linda LeResche, ScD, professor of oral medicine at the University of Washington, in Seattle says laboratory research clarifies that for many kinds, but not all kinds of stimuli, women have a lower tolerance for pain comparatively. 

Just because we have to deal with reproductive health issues, painful periods, or contraceptive side effects, doesn’t mean we are less human or reinforced with stones. 

Which gender is more sensitive to pain?

One of the largest studies to examine sex differences in human pain perception states that when a woman falls ill, her pain may be more intense than a man’s. Across a number of different diseases, including diabetes, arthritis and certain respiratory infections, women in the study reported feeling more pain than men. 

Because pain is subjective, researchers can’t know for sure whether women, in fact, experience more pain than men. A number of factors, including a person’s mood and whether they take pain medication, likely influence how much pain they say they’re in.

History of gender pain gap!

Throughout centuries, the female physical form was considered to be inferior to men. In ancient Greece, Aristotle saw women as subject to men, but as higher than slaves, and lacking authority. He also said that women were “deformed male; and the menstrual discharge is semen, though in an impure condition.”

During the reign of Queen Victoria’s era, female illnesses were considered hysteria and they were institutionalized rather than treated. Even now, Diane E Hoffmann and Anita J Tarzian explain in their book that studies still indicate, women are more likely to be given sedatives for their pain while men would be given pain medications. 

In 1977, the FDA issued a guideline banning most women of “childbearing potential” from participating in clinical research studies. This was partly to avoid causing serious birth defects. With the establishment of the first HHS task force (Department of Health and Human Services) on women’s health in 1983, a shift away from this approach began. But with this huge time gap, medical studies and professional research results based on human anatomy were all made and stored and hence relayed lesser knowledge about the female body compared to men. Most research analysis for the female gender was then just written with reference to the previous studies on men. so researchers don’t truly know how women metabolize and react to many medicines, nor how they experience or manifest pain.

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What are the impacts and significance of the gender pain gap?

“When people with heart attack receive the wrong initial diagnosis, there are potentially important clinical repercussions, including an increased risk of death.”  – PROFESSOR CHRIS GALE

Professor Gale was involved in a study, published in the European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care in 2016, that analyzed data from 564,412 patients treated for a heart attack in England and Wales over a nine-year period to March 2013. The study found that women are 50% more likely to receive the wrong diagnosis after a heart attack compared to men, leading to an increased risk of death.

This was because, women showed symptoms that differ from men when having a heart attack but doctors fail to recognize this—a phenomenon known as “Yentl syndrome”, where women are often misdiagnosed, dismissed, or told their pain is just perceived. It was also found that there were not enough studies for women to receive a correct endometriosis diagnosis. Endometriosis has invisible symptoms and hence females suffering from it were dismissed and not appropriately treated. In fact, in other cases where women were given the right treatment, they themselves viewed their pain as being normal and hence postponed it themselves – as found by Vice and Abby Norman, author of “Ask Me About My Uterus”.

An incorrect diagnosis can always lead to a delay in treatment and a negative impact on women’s quality of life. 

Apart from the wrong diagnosis, there are countless studies and surveys that reveal female health issues are taken less seriously as compared to men, even when they have the same severity. 

What is the present situation of the gender pain gap?

The gender pain gap is far from over, but we are not at the place where we started anymore

The National Institute of Health (NIH) in the US introduced a policy in 2015, that requires medical research to include sex into account as a biological variable. 

In 2017, the NHS made sure that Doctors are being advised to listen to what women tell them about crippling pelvic and period pain and look out for the symptoms of endometriosis in a bid to speed up the diagnosis of a disease that can wreck lives and careers.

New rules have come under the “Patient’s Bill of Rights”  that states, Health care professionals have a responsibility to provide medical treatment to any person with an emergency medical condition. an emergency medical condition is defined as “a condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in placing the individual’s health [or the health of an unborn child] in serious jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions, or serious dysfunction of bodily organs.

Women who continue to endure medical dismissal or misdiagnosis can be educated to take up an active role in self disease management. By being educated, women learn to trust their bodies and use their instincts to make informed decisions about their healthcare. It can also mean being informed about smart healthcare and utilizing technological services in the healthcare space such as telemedicine. 

We have truly not reached the end of this pain, but we are definitely at a strong phase towards achieving it together.