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Women Get More Pain Meds But Less Specialized Care, Spanish Study

Update Date: May 22, 2013 11:45 AM EDT

Women are more likely than men to be prescribed pain medication\, according to a new study.  Researchers said the findings held true even after accounting for pain, social class and age.

The study published in Spanish scientific journal Gaceta Sanitaria confirms that this phenomenon is influenced by socioeconomic inequality between genders in the Autonomous Community in which the patient lives, according to a news release.

In 1999, researchers at Harvard University found that states in the United States with more women and a larger percentage of people in upper social class had lower mortality in both genders.

The latest study wanted to see how social and economic inequalities between men and women, or gender-related development, influence the prescription of analgesics by area of residence.

"In Spain, as well as in other countries, women suffer from pain more frequently than men, therefore it is logical that they are prescribed more analgesics," lead author Elisa Chilet Rossell said in a news release.

However, further analysis revealed that regardless of pain, social class and age, women still are more likely to be prescribed analgesics.

"It also depends on whether the patient lives in an Autonomous Community with lower gender development, regardless of whether the patient is male or female," Chilet added.

The study looked at data from the 2006 Spanish National Health Survey and the United Nations' Gender-related Development Index (GDI), which identifies the differences between the development indices of men and women according to life expectancy at birth, education and income.

After performing a logistic regression analysis to compare the prescription of analgesics by sex in the areas with higher and lower GDIs than the Spanish national average, researchers found a gender gap of 29 percent in the prescription of pain medications.

"The gender bias found could be a way in which inequalities in treatment with analgesics negatively affects women's health," according to the study. "In this way, women receive treatment for symptomatic pain more frequently than men, treatment which can be unspecific and blind to the causes of the pain."

Researchers explain that women who suffer pain and live in places of lower gender-related development are less likely than men to be seen by specialists and tend to be seen only by doctors in primary care.

"Research on the suitability of analgesics and the medicalisation of women should take account of factors within this environment, as it entails a high cost in terms of women's health and increases pharmaceutical costs, an important consideration in the current climate of economic recession," Chilet concluded.

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