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Keywords:

  • Chronic Pain;
  • Veteran Women;
  • Sex Differences;
  • Chronic Opioid Therapy

Abstract

Objective

Despite a growing number of women seeking medical care in the veterans affairs (VA) system, little is known about the characteristics of their chronic pain or the pain care they receive. This study sought to determine if sex differences are present in the medical care veterans received for chronic pain.

Design

Retrospective cohort study using VA administrative data.

Subjects

The subjects were 17,583 veteran patients with moderate to severe chronic non-cancer pain treated in the Pacific Northwest during 2008.

Methods

Multivariate logistic regression assessed for sex differences in primary care utilization, prescription of chronic opioid therapy, visits to emergency departments for a pain-related diagnosis, and physical therapy referral.

Results

Compared with male veterans, female veterans were more often diagnosed with two or more pain conditions, and had more of the following pain-related diagnoses: fibromyalgia, low back pain, inflammatory bowel disease, migraine headache, neck or joint pain, and arthritis. After adjustment for demographic characteristics, pain diagnoses, mental health diagnoses, substance use disorders, and medical comorbidity, women had lower odds of being prescribed chronic opioid therapy (adjusted OR [AOR] 0.67, 95% CI 0.58–0.78), greater odds of visiting an emergency department for a pain-related complaint (AOR 1.40, 95% CI 1.18–1.65), and greater odds of receiving physical therapy (AOR 1.19, 95% CI 1.05–1.33). Primary care utilization was not significantly different between sexes.

Conclusions

Sex differences are present in the care female veterans receive for chronic pain. Further research is necessary to understand the etiology of the observed differences and their associations with clinical outcomes.