Stamford, CT - November 13, 2001 - More than 25 percent of men and women who live with chronic pain report that this condition affected their decision to quit their job, according to the "Gender Attitudes Toward Chronic Pain" survey commissioned by Partners Against PainÒ and the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC). According to the National Institute of Health, pain costs Americans more than $100 billion each year in health care costs and lost productivity. From quality of life issues to job performance and security, pain is not only physically debilitating, but also emotionally devastating.
Chronic pain affects a variety of life situations for both women and men. The survey found that 51 percent of women with chronic pain would give up sex for one year to live pain-free (interestingly, only 32 percent of men would forgo sex for that benefit). Of the women who said they are willing to do without sex, almost 40 percent report that the intensity of their pain is "severe" and some 30 percent say that disease, rather than sports related injury or accident, is the primary cause of their pain.
The survey of more than 1,000 people revealed that women are more likely than men to experience severe pain, and do so on a more frequent basis. Despite the intensity and severity of their pain, many women remain undertreated, according to Christine Miaskowski, RN, PhD, Professor, Department of Physiological Nursing, University of California, San Francisco, and president-elect American Pain Society. "Men and women's chronic pain experiences can be attributed to the differences in their biology as well as to the perceptions and behaviors of health care professionals and a society that treats genders differently," said Dr. Miaskowski. "Women are at greater risk of experiencing chronic pain and are also more likely to receive inadequate pain treatment than men. In addition, men and women have different capacities for expressing and responding to pain."
Women are better at discussing and coping with pain than men and this behavior is reinforced by cultural expectations of roles and socialization. Not surprisingly, the survey found that women are more likely to discuss their pain than men (84 percent compared to 73 percent). Men and women will equally turn to their significant other to discuss their pain, while women may turn to their friends more frequently than do men.
"Studies indicate that because women are more likely to discuss their pain, they've developed better coping mechanisms to deal with pain, such as actively seeking support and treatment. Men, on the other hand, tend to "grin and bear it" and to delay seeking treatment, resorting to proactive pain relieving activities only when the pain is so severe that it interferes with their livelihood," explains Amy R. Niles, Executive Director, NWHRC.
Impact of Pain
Health care professionals often view women's symptoms as caused by emotional factors and thus believe they are "not real." Furthermore, studies indicate that health care professionals believe women can manage more pain than men. The perceived superiority of women to cope with their pain may affect the care they receive. While women are more likely than men to suffer from a disease associated with chronic pain, are biologically more sensitive to pain than men, and respond differently to certain medications, they often receive less aggressive treatment for their pain than men.
When inadequately treated, pain can lead to depression, loss of function, increased time to heal and lost workdays. For families, this can have devastating effects since women often have multiple responsibilities, including caring for children and/or parents, household management and outside employment.
Many patients do not realize that there are things they can do to alleviate their pain. Pain treatment may incorporate an interdisciplinary approach that includes exercise, relaxation therapy and medication.
Partners Against Pain and the National Women's Health Resource Center commissioned the survey of 1,000 individuals (500 women with chronic pain and 500 men with chronic pain) to explore the key differences between men and women's perceptions of their pain.
Partners Against Pain is a public service program of Purdue Pharma intended to educate health care professionals and patients about appropriate pain management. For more information, visit the Partners Against Pain Web site at: www.partnersagainstpain.com.
The National Women's Health Resource Center is the nation's leading independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to educating women of all ages about health and wellness issues. Its programs include the award-winning newsletter, the National Women's Health Report, public education campaigns, and its Web site, www.healthywomen.org. A special section of the site is devoted to pain management for women.