It is no secret that women make up a majority of the approximately 25 percent of Americans who suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, and vulvodynia, to name only a few, either disproportionately or solely affect women. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis for such pain can take months or years – and, frustratingly multiple consultations. Even an accurate diagnosis does not lead to relief because few effective treatment options are available.
The reasons for this injustice are many. Health care professionals do not always understand these conditions because of inadequate training. There is not enough scientific research and thus, an alarming lack of effective evidence-based treatments. To add insult to injury, women’s pain reports are not taken as seriously as men and their pain is not treated as aggressively, even though we report pain that is more severe, frequent and of longer duration. We all look forward to the day when this widespread discrimination, neglect, and dismissal of women’s pain will be history, and some little-talked about provisions in the health reform legislation are a step in that direction.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides hope for chronic pain sufferers that should, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, be “applauded.” First, the ACA calls for the Institute of Medicine to convene a Conference on Pain that is meant to: (1) increase awareness of pain as a public health problem; (2) evaluate the adequacy of assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and management of pain; (3) identify barriers to pain care; and (4) establish an agenda for action in both the public and private sectors that will reduce such barriers and improve pain care research. Second, the ACA encourages increased funding for an “aggressive” program of pain research by the National Institutes of Health Pain Consortium. Third, the ACA authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to fund efforts to educate and train health professionals in pain.
Thus, the ACA addresses the very problems that leave women in pain without answers or hope. Health professionals will receive training to accurately recognize and diagnosis pain conditions. Increased funding for scientific research will lead to new and improved treatment options. And, increased awareness about pain may reduce the stigma women in pain routinely face. We are a long way from righting this incredible wrong, but because of the ACA, we are one step closer.
Edited by Alison Stanton