Do doctors take women's pain less seriously?

A shocking story about a woman suffering excruciating pain while doctors dismissively diagnosed her caught our attention this week.

A journalist wrote this incredible piece for US media The Atlantic about the treatment his wife received in an emergency department after presenting with acute abdominal pain.

Her complaint was initially dismissed as kidney stones and it was only hours later a doctor correctly diagnosed her with ovarian torsion and recognised that she was in a life-threatening condition and an extreme amount of pain.

But that only came hours after she arrived at the emergency department. The writer recalls how he wanted to tear down the walls to have his wife’s pain acknowledged, but no one was listening.

He writes: “‘You’re just feeling a little pain, honey,’ one of them told Rachel, all but patting her head.”

Ad. Article continues below.

It turns out that this woman wasn’t the only one to have the reality of her pain minimised. Research shows that men wait an average of 49 minutes before receiving pain medication for acute abdominal pain, while women wait an average of 65 minutes for the same thing.

A US study called The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain found women were “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the health-care system until they ‘prove that they are as sick as male patients’.”

The researchers note that this is not entirely the fault of the medical establishment but also the women themselves, who in many cases don’t want to appear melodramatic by complaining.

Are women tougher? And are we, as a result, expected to put up with more pain than one should bear?


Let’s talk: Have you ever had to wait longer than you should for pain relief? Has someone you love? And do you think women are actually better at managing pain or is it just another role we play?