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Researcher says women less likely to get painkillers

NEWPORT, R.I. -- Women are half as likely as men to receive pain killers after surgery because doctors often do not take their complaints seriously, according to a University of Rhode Island researcher.

A study of 30 men and 30 women who had coronary bypass surgery indicated a bias against giving painkillers to women, researcher Karen L. Calderone said.

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Calderone, who presented her study during a weekend National Conference for Women in Psychology, said doctors and nurses were twice as likely to give narcotics to men than to women during the first three days after surgery.

The study was conducted between January 1985 and August 1986. Calderone declined to say where the study was conducted.

'Health care professionals are taught that (narcotics) should be dispensed more conservatively to the expressive patients, who tend to dramatize their pain, and more liberally to stoical patients,' said Calderone, who is also an intensive care nurse at Miriam Hospital in Providence.

Because women often express their feelings more than men, they may be denied painkillers. When a woman complains of pain, she said, 'It seems like it's regarded as nagging and whining.'

Doctors and nurses are also encouraged to give sedatives instead of painkillers to patients who complain about pain, Calderone said. Of the 30 women studied, five of them were prescribed sedatives. But none of the men were given sedatives, she said.

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Calderone admitted her findings do not definitively prove a problem exists in the medical field. She also said she was not present in each case and could not say whether any female patients were ever denied painkillers if they requested them.

Calderone also said her experience as a nurse leads her to believe that when women are hospitalized for heart surgery they often appear sicker than men scheduled for the same operation.

'I wonder how many women have gone to their physician with complaints of chest pain and aren't taken seriously,' she said.

Her reasearch was one of several presentations to the national conference at the Viking Hotel in Newport. More than 600 women attended the two-day event, which included discussions of homelessness among women and methods of erasing sexual stereotypes in children.

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