An upcoming book addresses the perplexing reasons why women appear to suffer more with enduring pain than men. Conditions like chronic migraine, abdominal and neck pain may all affect women to a greater extent. Interestingly, health care practitioners also treat women with pain conditions differently.
So imagine you and your husband both have a migraine or headache condition and visit the same doctor. You may be prescribed different migraine treatments for the same symptoms! You may be advised to practice drug free migraine therapies like relaxation techniques, whereas your spouse may come home with a prescription for migraine medication and powerful painkillers.
The Wall Street Journal recently featured an article by and interview with the book’s author, Judy Foreman. In the book, A Nation in Pain: Healing Our Biggest Health Problem, she suggests that hormones and bias might have something to do with how women experience chronic migraines. She says that up until puberty, boys and girls experience the same number of migraines.
After puberty, that number increases significantly more for girls, and that adult women get as many as 3 times as many migraines as men. While estrogen, she says, can sometimes help prevent pain it sometimes also promotes pain — the effect isn’t clear. Testosterone on the other hand, protects against pain. But if you think a drug free migraine therapy should ‘obviously’ include hormone supplementation, she notes it isn’t that simple; it does not work the same way that naturally occurring hormones do.
The author also suggests that health care providers do not view or treat women patients complaining of pain in the same way they respond to male patients complaining of similar symptoms. She attributes this to a pervasive pattern of bias in health care against women. Women tend to experience and express pain in emotional ways.
She said this causes a physician to react in a negative way and undertreat the symptoms. She recommends that women be proactive in overcoming this bias by presenting their condition and symptoms in a factual (rather than emotional) way. Journal-tracking your headaches, drug free migraine therapies, medications, and triggers can help you stick to the facts next time you visit your doctor.
Pain doubles the risk for suicide, according to Foreman. The National Academy of Sciences estimates 100 million people are living with pain. According to The Migraine Research Foundation 14 million suffer with chronic daily headaches, and about half of those can be attributed to chronic migraines. If you are a woman living with chronic pain from migraines, these statistics and facts should encourage your efforts to take control of your health.