HEALTHY LIVING

Do Women Feel Pain More Intensely Than Men?

01/23/2012 04:47 pm ET

Women may feel more pain than men for a gamut of conditions, according to a large new study in the Journal of Pain.

Researchers from Stanford University examined more than 160,000 pain scores taken from more than 72,000 patients who had more than 250 different diagnoses, CNN reported.

On average, the women's pain scores were a full point above the men's pain scores on an 11-point scale, according to the study.

"How big is that? A pain-score improvement of one point is what clinical researchers view as indicating that a pain medication is working," study researcher Dr. Atul Butte told Stanford's SCOPE blog.

ABC News reported that in 14 of 47 disease "categories," women reported more pain than men. However, men didn't say they had more pain in any of the disease categories.

Conditions where women reported experiencing more pain than men included musculoskeletal disorders (neck, back and joint pain), high blood pressure and sinusitis, ABC News reported.

(The San Jose Mercury News has an infographic comparing the different pain responses, which you can see here.)

However, ABC News reported that outside medical experts are skeptical about the findings, saying that women may just experience more diseases that cause pain, or have more painful diseases, than men.

ABC News reported:

"It's a flawed study," said Dr. Lloyd Saberski, medical director of the Advanced Diagnostic Pain Treatment Centers at Yale University. "Just how accurate is the data collected? Probably not too accurate." He said the study was "dangerous" and potentially misleading and adds "nothing" to doctors' understanding of pain. Researchers did not control for factors such as coexisting depression and disease severity, he said.

However, Jeffrey Mogil, a McGill University pain expert who was not involved in the study, said that the study's large size shows that the findings have meaning, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

"What this paper does above and beyond what came before is a matter of sheer size," Mogil told the San Jose Mercury News. "In my mind, it puts the story to bed forever."

Researchers told the San Jose Mercury News that the study doesn't show that men better handle pain than women -- rather, it just says that women are more likely to report having pain. The newspaper reported:

For example, women -- specifically those who have endured childbirth -- may place their "worst pain imaginable" rating at a higher mark than men. And men playing "macho" might downplay their pain severity to others, especially to female nurses.

This isn't the first study to examine sex differences in pain tolerance. A 2005 study in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery showed that women have more nerve receptors than men, which means they are more sensitive to pain intensity.

"This study has serious implications about how we treat women after surgery as well as women who experience chronic pain," study researcher Bradon Wilhelmi, MD, said in a statement. "Because women have more nerve receptors, they may experience pain more powerfully than men, requiring different surgical techniques, treatments or medicine dosages to help manage their pain and make them feel comfortable."

In addition, Discovery News reported last year that women are more likely to have chronic pain than men.

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