Do women hurt more than men?

Pain is a medical issue so pervasive that it will impact the majority of Americans at some point in their lives. Here on EBL, we’ve written before about the issue of chronic pain, which effects nearly 116 million Americans.

Now new research out of Stanford University suggests that women suffer more from pain than men, even when both sexes have the same condition.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Pain, is not a systematic review, but it is the largest study of its kind to look at gender issues and pain. In it, researchers analyze the medical records of 11,000 patients whose pain scores were recorded as a routine part of their care.

Of the 22 medical problems analyzed in the study, women reported higher pain levels for 21 of them including back pain, joint pain and sinus infections. Overall, women’s pain levels were about 20 percent higher than men’s. And for several of the ailments, women’s average pain score one point or more higher than men’s – a clinically significant difference.

And it’s not the first study to raise the question of gender differences in pain. An international consensus report in 2007 suggested that hormones may play a role in the brain’s response to pain, and even went so far as to suggest that women may need different analgesia pharmaceuticals than men.

Another study out of England in 2003 suggested women are more sensitive to pain caused by pressure compared to men.

All very suggestive, but this literature on pain and gender differences raises more questions than it provides answers.  As a recent Institute of Medicine report confirms, much more research is needed on the effects of pain.

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