Women No More Tolerant of Pain than Men According to Latest Studies
The long held view is that women cope better with pain than men, because women are less sensitive to pain has been disproven by the latest research. A study of 11,000 US patients showed that women were in fact more sensitive to pain for illnesses such as sinusitis and neck pain, than men. The researchers called for more research to clarify how pain sensitivity varies with gender so that treatments can match varying sensitivity if they exist.
Most previous studies that have examined gender differences in simply comparing the number of men and women that reported what was painful and not painful. However most of these studies have not looked at the intensity of the pain. Similarly the number of subjects in these studies was too small to reliably detect significant differences between men and women. This article reviews the recent research outcomes.
The latest study included pain assessment reports from 11,000 patients who were asked to rate their pain on a scale of zero (no pain) to 10 (worst pain imaginable). The researchers looked at the gender differences in reported pain levels for more than 250 conditions and diseases. The overall results for this study were:
- For almost every diagnosis, the average pain scores reported by women, were higher than those reported by men.
- Overall the pain scores were 20% higher for women than for men.
- Women with pain from leg and knee strains, and lower back pain reported consistently higher scores than men. Women also reported more pain in the sinuses (for sinus infections) and for neck ailments than for men.
The researchers examined various possible explanations for the findings. Perhaps women use a different scoring grade or number, for the level of pain they reported compared with men. This dis not appear to be the case. The researchers believe that the differences were real and that women did indeed feel higher levels of pain than men for the same conditions and ailments.
Previous research suggests a number of possible reasons for the gender differences, including genetics, hormones and psychological factors, which vary between women and men.
It is also possible that the pain systems work differently in men and women.
One study showed that different parts of the brain are stimulated in response to pain, in men and women. Although there was a lot of similarity, the female brain showed greater activity in areas associated with emotions. In men, the analytical areas and cognitive regions, associated with logical thought processing showed greater activity.
Women and men also appear to respond differently to danger. A research team in Poland, used magnetic resonance imaging to assess brain activity in various regions when men and women were shown imaged threatening danger.
Men showed activity in areas associated with responses needed to confront or avoid danger - the so-called "fight or flight response". This involved various involuntary physiological functions, including heart rate and respiration.
Women showed stronger activity in the left thalamus, which is an area which relays sensory information to the pain and pleasure centers of the brain and memories. Women therefore showed a more emotional response.
The conclusion from these studies is that pain needs to be managed differently in men and women and not to over generalise.
© 2012 Dr. John Anderson
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