Are hospital emergency rooms sexist?

A feature in The Atlantic has questioned whether emergency rooms are sexist when it comes to treating men and women.

In an anecdotal description of his wife Rachel's visit to the emergency room, which took 14 and a half hours before his wife was finally taken for emergency surgery for ovarian torsion, Joe Fassler argues that doctors and nurses have a predisposition to take women’s pain less seriously.

'She’ll have to wait her turn,' she said. Other nurses’ reactions ranged from dismissive to condescending. 'You’re just feeling a little pain, honey,' one of them told Rachel, all but patting her head.

Everyone we encountered worked to assure me this was not an emergency.

The article has been shared on Facebook over 100,000 times, sparking a debate about the emergency treatment of women comparative to men.

He cites a 2001 study which showed that women report more severe and frequent incidences of pain than men, but are nonetheless treated less aggressively.

More recent studies have also shown that women report feeling pain more intensely than men, as a Stanford University School of Medicine study showed in 2012.

At the time, the study’s senior author Dr Atul Butt said:

It’s still not clear if women actually feel more pain than men do.

But they’re certainly reporting more pain than men do. We don’t know why. But it’s not just a few diseases here and there, it’s a bunch of them — in fact, it may well turn out to be all of them. No matter what the disease, women appear to report more-intense levels of pain than men do.

There is also evidence that women are undertreated compared to men in some diseases.

More women die annually than men from ischaemic heart disease in the developed world.

A study last year, published in the European Heart Journal, showed that women are comparatively undertreated compared to their male counterparts, due to the fact that “higher proportions of women with IHD present without” certain indicators.

The study stated:

These consistent findings argue against cultural ‘gender-based’ factors including misogyny and sexism as a driving force for drug underutilisation in women, and suggest alternatively that biological ‘sex-based’ differences are key contributors.

More:The chart that shows how many hospital beds the UK has, compared to other countries

More:Scientists have found an off-switch for pain

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