You may think that just because women go through childbirth, they are better equipped to deal with pain. However, that is not the case. Women may live longer than men, but this may also mean that women live in more pain than men. Research suggests that especially chronic pain can manifest differently within both sexes.
Numerous studies also indicate that women may also react and feel pain differently even when pricked with a needle. Knowing why and how both genders feel pain is essential to develop treatments that work on both genders. Medical procedures, especially surgeries, require a thorough physiological assessment of the patient, so pain differentiation between both genders is essential.
Are women more susceptible to pain?
Research has shown that women have more nerve fibers on their bodies while men may have fewer nerve fibers. Nerve fibers help you pick up stimuli in your surroundings, helping you say the word “ouch.” Essentially nerve fibers are what you need to help you feel pain.
There are also significant variations in how women and men pay attention to and explain pain and suffering. Women are more self-aware of their bodies’ behaviors and sensations. This is believed to be because their menstrual cycle acclimates them to their bodies’ cycles at a young age. Making them sensitive to the changes within their body. Consequently, males are more likely than females to forget their past medical experiences. In contrast, women will usually remember their past medical experiences in greater detail. Women being more sensitive to stimuli notice smaller symptoms better than men.
While this means that women may be more willing to request help earlier and get their conditions under control, it is also true that perceiving pain more negatively or catastrophizing it can further strengthen your pain receptors. Therefore, women may notice pain more, but that same quality can cause them to experience pain more. However, other factors also contribute to women being reported for more chronic pain experiences.
Hormones also play a vital role in pain differentiation between both genders. The primary difference within the bodies of a male and female is the presence of different levels of hormones. Men contain testosterone in much higher levels as compared to women.
Testosterone is predominantly an anti-nociceptive, which means it prevents or reduces the influence of painful sensations from the outer environment. Women, however, process pain differently due to their menstrual cycles as well. Due to shifts within the level of hormones in the body during different stages of their menstrual cycle, they can become more sensitive to pain.
A study suggests that, especially during ovulation, women may experience an increase in their pain sensitivity. It is precisely for this reason that individuals undergoing a sex change transition show an increased frequency of migraines when receiving testosterone blockers.
It’s no secret that even in 2021, there are gender stereotypes like men not feeling pain. Due to these stereotypes, many male individuals do not seek help even while being in pain. Therefore, this could also be why there are lesser men reported to have pain medications administered. The stigma that pain expression is feminine has also been reinforced by the societies that individuals live in. Ultimately it results in women being able to seek help for their pain and get their conditions treated faster.
The analytic study states that women are twice as likely to experience severe anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. The negative mindset can make your body more sensitive to external stimuli, and it lowers your immunity. Patients with declining mental health are also less likely to keep up with their treatment, reporting more pain episodes.
Women being, apparently, the more vulnerable sex, are more likely to experience childhood trauma. Trauma consists of any form of physical and/or psychological abuse. The effects of trauma are medically long-lasting. Long-lasting psychological damage can affect your body and, as a matter of fact, in a very negative manner.
According to Harvard Medical School, psychological trauma can make individuals develop chronic pain as adults. The neglect of childhood trauma and not seeking help such as therapy can increase your chances of developing chronic pain.
Different forms of chronic pain women experience
By differentiating and individually studying the different forms of chronic pain experience within both sexes, we can help treat them better.
1. Musculoskeletal pain
Women are more likely than men to develop vertebral modifications such as scoliosis, compression fractures, osteoarthritis, and bone degradation as they age. These conditions also inevitably put women at higher risk of bone injury during a fall. A study by NIH analyzed different forms of chronic pain through 17 countries on six continents, and approximately 85,000 participants showed how the rate of chronic pain is more prevalent within females and especially older women.
2. Abdominal pain
Women are 3 times more susceptible to developing irritable bowel syndrome as compared to men. Numerous studies have also found general abdominal pain to be more common within women. The reason that irritable bowel syndrome and gastrointestinal disorders are more common within women is that their nerve cells in the intestine are more sluggish.
Inflammation or infection are also conditions more commonly present within females. Women’s bodies fight infections better as compared to men. The response to infection often comes along with an inflammation-causing severe and recurring pain in the abdominal area.
Generally, you will always hear women complaining more about having migraines and headaches as compared to men. However, that isn’t just women overreacting. It has also been backed up by science. According to American Migraine Study II, the presence of migraine within women was 18.5%, and in men, 6.5%.
4. Pelvic pain
Women are repeatedly reported to get more admitted for pelvic pain as compared to men. However, this could also be because women experience partner or spouse violence more than men. According to the CDC, about 1 of every 4 women and almost 1 of every 10 men have been subjected to physical or sexual abuse. These violent abuse cases also result in pelvic injuries, explaining why women are more commonly reported to experience chronic pelvic pain.
How do men and women respond to pain medication?
Not only do men and women experience pain differently they also respond to pain medications differently. Analytical research done by the UK Pain Management Unit reports that men and women also react to interdisciplinary chronic pain management differently. Hence, proving that physiologically men and women process pain medication, particularly opioids, in different ways.
Opioids are more likely to provide optimal pain relief for women as compared to men. The brain consists of 3 significant opioid receptors. According to scientific data, these effective receptors are most active in women. Consequently, women respond to pain medication better without having a lot of side effects. On the other hand, for men to achieve the same result, a higher dose is required. They may also experience many side effects as a result.
There is a massive amount of gender bias within the medical field for females that do not allow them the optimal medical care they deserve. Medical officials often stereotype their patients when not taking their pain as seriously, especially based on gender. Gender bias also affects the diagnosis aspect very largely.
A study in 2018 found that a display of gender bias was widespread when diagnosing women with pain or seeking pain treatment. They were mostly overlooked and perceived as overly emotional, complainers, fabricating the pain and hysterical. This gender bias is also apparent in treatment and disease research. Most subjects were male, and/or the results were not distinguished by gender. COVID-19 research has also shown similar negligence. Numerous studies on COVID did not determine data based on gender.
To conclude, the pain differentiation between both sexes does not invalidate men’s experience of pain or prove women weaker, physiologically, compared to men. Pain is essentially and foremost subjective. Your worst experience of pain may not be so bad for the next person, but that does not lessen your experience of pain.
It is, however, essential for us to medically study how different sexes process pain. Therefore, to be able to provide treatments that are appropriate for their pain levels. Healthcare professionals may be able to reduce pain through medication catered to their different levels of pain. The research analyzed 161,762 unexpected deaths, and 95% proved to be due to unrelieved pain.
Hence, demonstrating the dire need for medical advancements within relieving pain is subjective to patient gender. The stereotyping linked to chronic pain must also be dismantled so that all genders can get the excellent care they deserve. Medical providers must be trained to handle chronic pain patients in general and treat men and women separately. Misdiagnosis, invalidation, and unresolved chronic suffering must be replaced by compassion, knowledge, and affirmation.