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Time to Tip the Scales in Pain Research and Care for Women

August 2, 2018
Inside the stats behind gender disparities in the management of pain among women.

PPM's latest special report addresses Pain Research & Care in Women, including:

Below are a few stats that highlight the ongoing disparities in managing pain among the female population, from gaps in clinical trial participation and medication-assisted treatment services to a lack of understanding of pain perception in women and the need for more female pain practitioners.

Women report more intense pain than men in virtually every disease category, and women are at increased risk for opioid misuse.1,2

The literature reveals that men and women differ in their responses to pain and in responses to pain interventions, with increased sensitivity and risk for clinical pain commonly observed among women.3

A high proportion of reproductive-age women may be experiencing pelvic pain that goes untreated. Roughly one-third of women reported that they have experienced chronic pelvic pain that has gone untreated for six months or longer.4

It has been acknowledged in recent decades that clinical trials have not always adequately enrolled women or analyzed sex-specific differences in the data.5

Approximately 80% of pain studies are conducted on male mice or human men, despite the fact that 70% of chronic pain conditions primarily affect women.6

Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women worldwide, and as many as 16% of women in the US suffer from vulvodynia at some point in their lives.7,8

The sex of both the patient and the healthcare provider may influence pain care, with one study showing that female practitioners are more likely to recommend psychosocial treatments for female than for male pain patients.9

 Expression of pain is generally more socially acceptable among women, an effect potentially leading to biased pain reporting. In studies, both sexes believed that a man was less willing to report pain, for example, than a woman.3

Women are more likely to be prescribed opioids for pain for longer periods and in higher doses than men.2 Women tend to become dependent on prescription pain relievers more quickly than men and may experience more cravings;10 despite this, co-prescribing opioids with medications that may increase overdose risk, such as benzodiazepines, is more common in women.11

Among those in need of medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, men are much more likely to obtain treatment than women.10

Women are more likely to have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders than men.12


Read more in our special issue on Pain in Women.

Last updated on: April 9, 2019
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