CNN article discussing disabling chronic pain conditions for women

(CNN) – The sensation began in Melanie Thernstrom’s neck the same day she went for a long swim. It flowed down through her right shoulder to her hand, as if she had a blistering sunburn underneath her skin.

Thernstrom, 32 at the time, had a couple of doctor’s appointments about it, but went along with a neurologist’s suggestion that it would get better on its own.

“I felt increasingly worried, but somehow not in a way that enabled me to take further action, more in a way that paralyzed me,” she said. “I think of pain like one of those sea animals that attacks you by paralyzing you first.”

She’s now 46, the mother of 9-month-old twins, and still dealing with the pain.

Around the world, chronic pain affects a larger proportion of women than men, said Jennifer Kelly of the Atlanta Center for Behavioral Medicine in Georgia. Doctors are finding that women have more recurrent pain and more disabilities from pain than men, she said. Kelly spoke at the convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego, California, on Thursday.

Women’s chronic pain also tends to be more intense and last longer than men’s, she said. Pain-causing illnesses such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome are all more common in women than men, according to the International Association for the Study of Pain.

One possible reason that women bear this burden of pain is hormones, Kelly said. The menstrual cycle can be associated with changes in discomfort among women with chronic pain.

Pain also can have long-lasting consequences that scientists are just beginning to understand. A study in the September issue of the journal PAIN found that women who suffer menstrual cramps have significant brain structure changes compared with women who don’t.. Other studies have also found abnormal brain structure changes in people with disorders such as chronic back pain and irritable bowel syndrome. Scientists do not yet know what these changes mean, or if they are reversible.

A 2008 study in the Journal of Neuroscience found that people with chronic pain have neurons firing too much in certain brain regions, which could lead to permanent damage. This may explain the repeated findings in other studies that chronic pain is linked to depression.

Women tend to focus on emotional aspects of pain, worrying about how it will affect their responsibilities, whereas men focus on the sensory aspect, Kelly said. That’s why it is especially important for physicians to help women challenge their negative thoughts that make the situation worse, she said.

Thernstrom, who eventually found that she suffers from overlapping arthritic conditions, agrees that many patients with chronic pain need help changing their mind set about pain. She spent a long time feeling angry and frustrated because she was looking for a “magical cure,” and despaired when interventions such as physical therapy and medications did not deliver complete, quick solutions.

“Part of what helped me was switching out the model in which I had to be pain free to be happy,” Thernstrom said. “Realizing I can have some pain, just like it can be raining outside and I can be happy – it’s all a matter of what level the pain is at.”

Despite men and women dealing with pain differently, doctors treat them the same for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, said Dr. Chaim Putterman, chief of rheumatology at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.

“We may be doing our patients a disservice by doing it that way, and perhaps there are gender-specific influences that need to be taken into account that we’re not taking into account,” he said.

Psychological counseling for people with chronic pain can help patients reframe how they see their pain and manage the consequences in other areas of their lives, Kelly said.

Many studies have found a connection between depression and chronic pain, with mental stress exacerbating physical discomfort and vice versa. Depression screening should be part of any evaluation of a patient with chronic pain, Putterman said.

Some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia are akin to depression, and medications for the chronic pain condition also work as antidepressants, Putterman said. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people change their thinking and behavior patterns, has also been shown to be effective for this condition.

But some chronic pain patients are resistant to mental health referrals and want treatment only for the pain itself, he said.

“You would prefer to have an organic disease than a mental disease because of the stigma that’s associated with mental disease in many circles,” he said.

In general, women are more dependent on their network of friends and family in dealing with chronic pain than men, who tend to handle issues more by themselves, Putterman said. In his experience, women tend to come to doctor’s appointments with members of their family, whereas men tend to go alone.

Thernstrom’s new book “The Pain Chronicles,” on sale Tuesday, details her own journey through pain as well as a history of pain from ancient Babylon to the present. For her research for the book, she observed doctors consulting with hundreds of patients of chronic pain and then followed some of those patients for eight years as they struggled to overcome their constant discomfort.

Today, her pain interferes with her ability to pick up her children as much as she’d like; she wishes she could carry them around in a sling, for instance, but already she needs a baby sitter’s help to take the twins around.

Seeking treatment for pain as early as possible is crucial, she said.

“Pain is like water damage to your house after the house collapses,” pain specialist Dr. Daniel Carr told Thernstrom for her book. Thernstrom herself adds, “The time to fix it is when it’s a drip.”

This article was written by Elizabeth Landau of CNN.

More than 85% of the long-term disability insurance claimants we represent are disabled by the chronic pain caused by their disabling medical condition. If you are unable to work due to chronic pain and you have a long term disability insurance policy, contact us for a free consultation to discuss you options.

DISABILITY INSURANCE COMPANY INFORMATION
Videos, Questions, Resolved Cases, Lawsuit Summaries & Company Reviews

disability insurance companies complaints

Leave a comment or ask us a question

FAQ

Do you work in my state?

Yes. We are a national disability insurance law firm that is available to represent you regardless of where you live in the United States. We have partner lawyers in every state and we have filed lawsuits in most federal courts nationwide. Our disability lawyers represent disability claimants at all stages of a claim for disability insurance benefits. There is nothing that our lawyers have not seen in the disability insurance world.

What are your fees?

Since we represent disability insurance claimants at different stages of a disability insurance claim we offer a variety of different fee options. We understand that claimants living on disability insurance benefits have a limited source of income; therefore we always try to work with the claimant to make our attorney fees as affordable as possible.

The three available fee options are a contingency fee agreement (no attorney fee or cost unless we make a recovery), hourly fee or fixed flat rate.

In every case we provide each client with a written fee agreement detailing the terms and conditions. We always offer a free initial phone consultation and we appreciate the opportunity to work with you in obtaining payment of your disability insurance benefits.

Do I have to come to your office to work with your law firm?

No. For purposes of efficiency and to reduce expenses for our clients we have found that 99% of our clients prefer to communicate via telephone, e-mail, fax, GoToMeeting.com sessions, or Skype. If you prefer an initial in-person meeting please let us know. A disability company will never require you to come to their office and similarly we are set up so that we handle your entire claim without the need for you to come to our office.

How can I contact you?

When you call us during normal business hours you will immediately speak with a disability attorney. We can be reached at 800-682-8331 or by email. Lawyer and staff must return all client calls same day. Client emails are usually replied to within the same business day and seem to be the preferred and most efficient method of communication for most clients.

Reviews   *****

Chad B. (Illinois)

I originally spoke with 3 other long term disability lawyers about my case before contacting Dell and Schaefer. None of those law firms would take it. They said the chances of me winning was not good. After finding Dell and Schaefer online I spoke with one of the attorneys that has since left. He did take my case but later it was picked up by Rachel Alters. Rachel is amazing and a very intelligent attorney. She not only won my case but also was able to get my back pay for 6 months.

I also cannot say enough about Sonia Nogueira. Sonia was always quick to answer any of my questions. I would usually hear back from her within hours of sending her a email. I do not know where I would be if I hadn’t contacted them. My family and I cannot thank them enough. Don’t let an insurance company tell you they are not responsible for paying you. I paid them for 20 years monthly and they looked for any reason they could not to have to pay me when I needed my benefit. Thank you Rachel and Sonia for all you guys do.

Read 424 reviews

Speak With An Attorney Now

Request a free legal consultation: Call 800-682-8331 or Email Us