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Soc Sci Med. 1999 Jun;48(12):1791-802.

The meanings of pain: an exploration of women's descriptions of symptoms.

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Department of Family Medicine, UmeƄ University, Sweden.


A grounded theory study with repeated semi-structured interviews was conducted to explore the meaning of the illness experiences of women patients, impaired by biomedically undefined musculoskeletal pain. Twenty female patients were recruited at an urban primary health care centre in northern Sweden, where two of the researchers work as family physicians. In this paper we focus on considerations of patient pain and analyze the findings from aspects linking together body, gender, and society. Four categories of symptom description were identified: bodily presentations, explanatory models, consequences of pain for the patient's activities, and consequences for her self-perception. The bodily symptoms signaled loss of control. The explanatory models consisted of physical damage and strain injuries, but were also psychological and self-blaming. The consequences of pain were described as negative consequences for the women's everyday life that challenged their self-perception as women. The participants' search and need for legitimization of their illness experiences, and the expectations placed on doctors as legitimizing agents was evident. To achieve the desired shared understanding in consultations, doctors must be aware of and consider not only physical signs and symptoms, but also the patients' gendered concerns and psycho-social circumstances.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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