Some time ago, a client wrote us the kind of letter we would never want to read: “I recently had a horrible experience. Now I know what happened to me, but at the time it was unclear. I started to feel strong lower abdominal pains and I couldn’t understand why. So I went to my gynaecologist for a check. After a brief visit, the doctor told me there was no reason to be worried and that my aches were mainly psychosomatic… I am not prone to stress, nor do I wallow in self-pity. So I decided to accept that explanation, despite I was still aching, and I left. A few nights later I woke up with excruciating pains, to the point that I had to convince my partner to take me to hospital. In the end it turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy; hence the origin of my pains was physical and they were definitely real”.
This letter convinced us to jot down a few lines on female pain, which is seldom invented or psychogenic and is always a warning that something is wrong on a biological level. Despite it is commonly accepted that women are more suited for ‘enduring’ pain (owing to the fact that they give birth), a number of studies have shown that these pains affect women more than men. For example, a survey carried out on a sample of 85,000 adults in 17 countries revealed that 45% of women suffers from some sort of chronic pain, compared with 31% of men.
Some painful syndromes impact women only, such as painful menstruations, which affect 90% of teenagers and more than one adult woman in two. Other pathologies, such as migraine, tend to show up prevalently in women. And yet, several studies have highlighted that more painkillers are prescribed for men than for women, even when they say they’re aching a lot.
Despite this evidence, we often hear that female pain has psychological origins. This erroneous conviction probably stems from a cultural background, to the point that women themselves tend to underestimate their pain, almost considering it normal. Physicians, on the other hand, hardly ever investigate the situation enough and it often takes time to get the diagnosis right. For example, it takes on average nine years to correctly diagnose endometriosis, and during that period women believe that having strong menstrual pains is normal and that they simply have to coexist with them.
It is therefore crucial to seek the advice of consultants who can identify the causes and promptly make a correct diagnosis. And while the pain does not have a psychological origin, some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or mindfulness, can help enhance our endogenous painkilling mechanisms.