SPECIAL CHALLENGES FOR WOMEN
The majority of sufferers of these conditions are women. Because historically the conditions were poorly understood and not included in medical education, they were not taken up as women’s health issues by the women’s health movement. It is time for that to change.
We now have a much clearer idea of the link between sex (the physical/biological propensity toward these illnesses) and gender (the social/cultural activities that increase the likelihood of women contracting these illnesses) and the three conditions.
According to Dr. John Molot in his summary of research (Chronic, Complex Conditions: Academic and Clinical Perspectives) sex and gender both play important parts.
To begin with ‘a common denominator of these conditions is “limbic system sensitization”. . .There are sex differences in how the limbic system responds and sensory differences related to limbic system function.’
He notes that, “Women have a higher prevalence of several pain-related conditions, and on average are more responsible to painful stimuli. . . .They also tend to have a heightened inflammatory response compared to men.”
Significantly, Dr. Molot points out, ‘statistics gleaned from the National Health and Nutrition Environmental Survey (NHANES) in the US suggests that environmental pollution exposures affect women more than men. Women biologically handle chemicals differently compared to men. The enzyme systems for detoxification are more active than men. Normal kidney clearance of chemicals is lower in females compared to males. Also women retain more inhaled volatile organic compounds than men. This is likely because women have a higher percentage of body fat, which affects the distribution of chemicals that are not easily eradicated.’
Dr. Molot goes on to note that, ‘given the higher domestic responsibilities relative to men, women also have greater exposure to chemical cleaners, detergents and fabric softeners. Women also use more cosmetic, skin care and scented products’.
FROM THE COMMUNITY CONSULTATION
Physician discounting behaviours tied to sexist perceptions of women:
There have been two particular doctors that, when I mentioned that I had ME … they kind of … gave me the look: here’s another hysterical woman, post-menopausal type, going mmm. I don’t know, but that was my feeling. Elizabeth ME There is a definite perception that’s sexist. I think if it was men primarily who were in this much pain; we’d see more funding, more positive reinforcement. … But it’s just women in pain. Sheila FM
As women with any illnesses that have come up over time, we’re always treated as if it’s all in our heads… ‘You’re just being a hypochondriac,’ and all these things … This whole area is probably not recognized as much because it’s mainly women getting it. I think it’s about how women are treated in society… So when anything’s wrong with you, if you’re depressed or whatever, it’s your own fault as opposed to society, the way the world is set up. … And, ‘you’re too sensitive,’ and all of that stuff, especially being an older woman too. Also women have less money, and a lot of women go into poverty with this. … Betty MCS