Chronic Pain and Women’s Health

Chronic Pain and Women’s Health

I had the pleasure of hearing Gabrielle Jackson’s talk about her book “Pain and Prejudice” in November 2019 at the State Library of New South Wales.

Gabrielle’s spoke about her personal struggle to obtain a diagnosis and effective treatment for chronic pelvic pain. Her experience led her to research chronic pain in woman, women’s health needs and gender bias in medical research. Her book is insightful and thought provoking and will be invaluable to any women with chronic pain.

A central tenet in Gabrielle’s research into women’s health is that women and men are treated differently when they seek treatment for chronic pain. She cites a long history of normalising chronic pain in women, which has led to a tendency to minimise the severity and impact of such pain, with an expectation that women need to cope with rather than seek solutions to their pain. By contrast there has been a cultural tendency to interpret the pain reported by men as more serious and a greater sense of urgency that they need treatment.

The book makes for fascinating reading and Gabrielle has been invited to speak at medical conferences to obstetricians, gynaecologists and general practitioners about the difficulty women face when they seek help for chronic health conditions and especially chronic pain.

Gabrielle reports that there has been an assumption in medical research that men and women’s bodies and health needs are the same, yet women have often been excluded from medical trials due researchers’ uncertainty about how to interpret the impact of female hormones on results, so there is a lack of scientific evidence about the similarities and differences between men and women’s health and their respective response to treatments.

This means women may present with symptoms and conditions that are not fully understood including side effects from medications which were not documented in men during the original safety testing and development. The impact of the historical lack of research into chronic pain in women is that there a cultural tendency to attribute chronic pain conditions in women to psychological factors, which can leave women without an effective treatment.

Humans have evolved with an integrated brain-body system, so psychological conditions undoubtedly affect our physical health and vice versa.   Whilst a psychological condition may not be the cause of a chronic pain condition, psychological counselling and pain management strategies may help people manage chronic pain conditions for which there is no medical treatment.

If you have a chronic pain condition and would like to explore psychological counselling and pain management strategies, please contact me.