Women in UK experience longer diagnosis times than men for same pain types

  • New research from Nurofen reveals less than half (47%) of women surveyed received a diagnosis for their pain within 11 months compared to two thirds (66%) of men
  • Nearly one in three women feel their long diagnosis time was due to their healthcare professional not taking their pain seriously or dismissing it
  • The survey shows the Gender Pain Gap has widened (from 7% in 2022 to 11% in 2023)
  • Nurofen launches a free PAIN PASS tool to help people talk about their pain with confidence with their healthcare professional

New research by Nurofen reveals it takes UK women longer than men to receive a medical diagnosis for the same types of pain – less than half (47%) of women surveyed received a diagnosis within 11 months compared to two thirds (66%) of men. Additionally, more women than men (14% vs 9%) still do not have a diagnosis for their pain after 12 months or longer. 

Nearly a third of women surveyed (30%) felt the reason it took so long to receive a diagnosis for their pain was because their healthcare professional (HCP) did not take their pain seriously or dismissed their pain, compared to less than one in five (18%) men.

Women face multiple barriers when seeking help for their pain. For example, the survey showed nearly half of women (45%) who feel uncomfortable talking to certain people about their pain say they’re worried they will be judged as a moaner, compared to just 35% of men who feel this way. So, it’s not surprising that nearly a quarter (23%) of women surveyed have not even tried to seek a diagnosis for the pain they experience, compared to just over one in 10 (13%) men.

These concerning statistics form part of Nurofen’s Gender Pain Gap Index Report, which the brand has released for the second year to delve deeper into understanding the bias that exists when it comes to women’s and men’s experiences and treatment of pain.

The Gender Pain Gap

The research shows the Gender Pain Gap has widened a year on since the brand’s first Gender Pain Gap Index Report, highlighting that more needs to be done to tackle unconscious gender bias in healthcare.

Last year’s data showed over half of women surveyed (56%) said they felt their pain was ignored or dismissed compared to 49% of men – revealing a Gender Pain Gap of 7%. A year on, while fewer of the women surveyed (49%) than last year say their pain has been ignored or dismissed than men (38%), sadly the gap has widened to 11%.

Dr Marieke Bigg, sociologist and author of ‘This Won’t Hurt: How Medicine Fails Women’ says: “It’s concerning to see that the gender pain gap has increased. Whether this means women are becoming more vocal about the problems they face, or whether medical sexism has intensified, we need to respond to this evidence and make changes to healthcare provision. Unfortunately, women’s pain is often dismissed. Healthcare professionals continually misattribute women’s symptoms to stress or ‘hormones’, while men are more likely to be sent for a physical check – even when complaining of the same type of pain. Over time, this has led to women’s pain being overlooked, resulting in a gender pain gap. Women are waiting longer to get a diagnosis for their pain, and do not feel empowered to push for the support they need. This is unacceptable. With initiatives like Nurofen’s Gender Pain Gap Index Report, we’re seeing more recognition of the issue. But we are still a long way from closing the gap. Women need to start feeling listened to and supported in getting the help they need.”

It took Chloe, age 20, nine years to get a diagnosis for endometriosis. Chloe comments: “I believe if I’d have said how I was feeling to my doctor, but I was a different gender, things would have been taken a lot more seriously. It’s why I want to urge other women to keep fighting. Remember you’re not crazy. You’re not insane. Your pain is real. You know your body better than anybody else. Keep fighting. Push for a diagnosis when you know something isn’t right.”

Driving change

With a fifth of women (20%) wanting more resources to aid better conversations between women and their healthcare professionals, today Nurofen launches the PAIN PASS – a free downloadable PDF tool designed to help people track and articulate their pain and symptoms, aid more constructive conversations with their healthcare professional, and help tackle unconscious bias.

Dr Bill Laughey, Senior Medical Scientist at Reckitt says: “Our latest research shows that fewer feel their pain has been dismissed – perhaps because awareness is driving better quality conversations between patients and healthcare professionals. Whilst a positive step forward, the gap has widened and this needs to stop We’ve developed the PAIN PASS in collaboration with leading pain specialists and women experiencing pain. It is designed to empower women to get the support and treatment they need. But we can’t close this gap by ourselves. We’re also calling on policymakers, the healthcare industry and medical stakeholders to come together to implement meaningful changes, such as effective gender bias training for all healthcare professionals.” 

As part of several key commitments Nurofen has made to help close the Gender Pain Gap, the brand has also created free Gender Pain Gap training for healthcare professionals. To date, two-thirds of Superdrug’s pharmacists, pharmacy assistants and nurses have completed the training. Nurofen is also partnering with the charity Wellbeing of Women to fund an innovative new piece of research. The study, which will happen over three years, will investigate health literacy levels and attitudes towards menstrual pain in adolescent girls and women.  It will also address the impact these attitudes have had over time on women’s health journeys. 

Impact of pain on everyday life

Nurofen’s survey among 5,015 UK men and women also found that pain is having a bigger impact on women’s quality of life and mental health. Nearly a third of women (30%) said that experiencing pain is affecting their social life (vs 24% of men). A fifth of women (20%) said it has stopped them from working (vs 16% of men). Additionally, over a quarter of women (27%) say their pain has affected their mental health in a negative way, compared to over a fifth of men (21%).

Featured Photo by Francisco Venâncio on Unsplash.

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