In mid-May, a group of advocacy organizations launched the “Campaign to End Chronic Pain in Women.” These organizations include the Endometriosis Association, the TMJ Association, the National Vulvodynia Association (NVA), and the CFIDS Association of America. The alliance, supported by Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and other prominent lawmakers, was formed to fight “discrimination and neglect that sufferers face and push for increased funding and research.” The campaign focuses on six conditions that solely or disproportionally affect women: chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, temporomandibular disorders and vulvodynia.
Chronic pain partially or totally disables fifty million Americans. However, because chronic pain largely affects women, it “has long been considered a troublesome female complaint rather than a legitimate symptom that something physically is wrong.” Women disproportionately suffer from chronic pain because our physiology makes us more susceptible to it. Hormones also play a role in chronic pain. They have been linked to rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines, and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
Healthcare reform has made some steps to help sufferers of chronic pain and direct attention to women’s health in general. However, there is still a lot of work to do to make sure women receive proper treatment for chronic pain conditions. One problem facing women is the discrimination or ignorance on the part of doctors that prevents patients from receiving a diagnosis. This problem is particularly evident in vulvodynia (chronic vulvar pain):
Of those who sought medical advice [for chronic vulvar pain], more than half (60 percent) saw at least three doctors. Only one out of 10 women was correctly diagnosed with chronic vulvar pain; the rest were diagnosed as having other vaginal or pelvic infections or problems associated with this type of pain.
Elizabeth Rummer, a physical therapist, said that “‘very few doctors ask questions about pain with intercourse or vaginal/vulvar pain’” and that “although public awareness efforts like the Campaign to End Chronic Pain in Women are important, getting the word out in the medical field about proper treatments is absolutely crucial to a broad-based improvement in care.”
Because chronic pain conditions disproportionally affect women they have long been ignored or belittled by healthcare professionals. Although healthcare reform helped this issue somewhat, more work needs to be done to raise awareness in the medical field and the public. To find out what you can do to help in this effort, click here.