The difference between men and women when it comes to pain
Pain perception differs depending on gender, experts have found. Research studies have compared pain reporting between men and women, analyzed prescription drug practices by doctors and observed differences in pain tolerance in laboratory animals. Chief among the results is the indication that women feel pain more acutely than men do but are better at seeking pain relief.
In addition to being more likely to seek help for their pain, women recover more quickly from pain, according to WebMD.
“They are also more likely to marshal a variety of resources — coping skills, support and distraction — with which to deal with their pain … and are less likely to allow pain to control their lives.”
How estrogen affects the pain threshold
While scientists say the differences are clear, the mechanism behind the differences is not.
“The addition of estrogen appears to lower the pain threshold,” said WebMD, citing an experiment where male experimental animals were injected with estrogen and appeared thereafter to have a lower pain tolerance. “Similarly, the presence of testosterone … appears to elevate tolerance for pain in female mice.”
Experts deduce, therefore, that estrogen may be the key to determining how or even whether pain is recognized.
Chronic pain conditions affect women more frequently
For women, this means a higher susceptibility to certain chronic pain conditions. The National Institutes of Health lists “fibromyalgia, migraine and chronic tension-type headache, irritable bowel syndrome, temporomandibular disorders, and interstitial cystitis” as complaints women feel more affected by than men do.
Fibromyalgia, in particular, presents in women much more frequently than men, boasting a 10 to 1 occurrence ratio, according to Novocur. This chronic condition is characterized by nonspecific musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, memory loss, mood issues and difficulty sleeping. It has also been called a “pain amplification syndrome,” which means when the brain receives a pain transmission, its intensity is magnified.
“Over time there seems to be an actual remodeling in the way the brain processes and perceives pain,” Novocur said.
Migraines are another form of chronic pain that afflicts women more frequently than men. These debilitating headaches are associated with light sensitivity, mood issues, difficulty sleeping or concentrating and nausea. As with other pain disorders, it is not clear why women are affected more frequently or severely by migraine pain than men, but experts postulate once more that there is a link between migraine pain and intensity with rising and falling levels of estrogen during a woman’s normal monthly cycle.
“Women experience migraines almost three times more often than men,” the American Migraine Foundation said. “Before puberty, both boys and girls have the same migraine prevalence. … However, once puberty arrives, the frequency of migraines between girls and boys separates.”
How to find pain relief
While cures for migraines, fibromyalgia and the other diseases recognized as those that affect women more negatively do not yet exist, pain relief is available. For mild cases, over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or acetaminophen with caffeine (as in Midol) can help.
If OTC pain medication doesn’t work, Interventional Pain Management can offer other pain management options. For migraines and other headaches, this might include trigger point therapy or a simple occipital nerve block, which involves a long-acting injection of anesthetic or steroid into the space around the nerves on the back of the head just above the neck. For fibromyalgia, some people experience pain relief from spinal facet block, which works on a similar principle.
For longer-lasting or more severe pain, however, it’s important to speak with a doctor to find out what pain relief options are available to you. Novocur, one of the only accredited pain management organizations in Arizona, offers customized treatment plans and procedures managed by pain specialist doctors who provide a personal level of care. Contact Novocur today to learn more about how to find relief from pain associated with chronic conditions.
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