Pain in Males and Female: Is It Different?

The Outlook of Pain in Society

Although many women would beg to differ, studies suggest that men have a higher pain threshold than women. This could partly explain why arthritis, migraines and other chronic pain conditions are more commonly observed in women. Women are affected by fibromyalgia, a disorder involving widespread pain and fatigue.

The way in which a person deals with pain involves physical, mental and cultural factors.

The reason women are more sensitive to pain cannot yet be pinpointed but studies show that female brains and bodies process the sensation of pain differently than those of males. These differences affect everything from pain tolerance to mechanisms used to cope with pain. It can also determine which treatments may be most effective.

Differences Explained

A possibility for the differences in pain processing between genders may be caused by sex hormones. Estrogen levels fluctuate during menstruation and when a woman enters menopause, estrogen levels plummet. These variations in hormones are linked to the way in which a woman experiences pain. While it appears that pain and levels of estrogen are correlated, we are unsure whether a decrease in estrogen causes an increase or a decrease in pain tolerance. Studies performed on this topic have had opposing results. There is another hormone, oxytocin, that is released in both men and women during stressful situations and works to relax emotions.

Women produce oxytocin in much higher amounts than men when dealing with stress, so they have the upper hand in calming their emotions.

Emotional factors may also play a role in the differences men and women experience. Women often think about the effect chronic pain will have on their day to day activates while men more often focus on the pain they are experiencing in that moment.

Brain scans that detect areas of the brain responsible for processing pain shows high activity in the emotional centers in women and more cognitive and analytical areas in men when the same pain is administered. Depression may heighten a woman’s emotional response to pain and the diagnosis of depression is much more likely in females.

Coping with Pain

Coping mechanisms are also different between the genders. In many cases, women deal with chronic pain more constructively. They tend to turn to loved ones and join support groups to talk about how their pain is affecting their lives. However, some studies suggest that women may also exaggerate their pain, also known as ‘catastrophizing,’ which can lead to hostility from family members and this excessive pessimism is linked with higher levels of depression.

The roles women play within their family and society can determine how they cope with chronic pain. Contrary to ‘catastrophizing', sometimes the expected behaviors and responsibilities put upon a woman can cause her to downplay her pain and attempt to fight through it.

A Look into Approaches

Although there are differences in pain between men and women, most treatments are not always tailored for the different genders. Women often receive poor pain assessments and are often under-treated. Women are prone to more side effects from medications than men are and therefore must find something that is beneficial with the least amount of adverse effects.

Cognitive behavior therapy and other non-medical treatments may also be very beneficial for women. Here women can learn coping skills and work to change thought patterns associated with pain and the impact they have on quality of life.

It is important for individuals, both men and women, to learn to be advocates for themselves in regard to their pain. It can be difficult for people to explain their pain and express their emotions to their doctors, so determining a treatment plan that is tailored to the individual is extremely important.

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