Does pain affect men and women differently?
Women have the greatest advantage in the world of suffering: childbirth. Men are often thought to be better able to grin and bear a horrifying variety of wounds, but they are seldom subjected to what many people regard to be the height of human misery, which occurs in delivery rooms. Even in the third trimester, a pregnant woman's body goes through some modifications to be ready for labor. In fact, even after the baby is born, a mother will continue to demonstrate a higher pain tolerance than women who haven't had children, according to a 1992 study from the University of Western Ontario. This is because pain-mitigating opioid receptors go on red alert and levels of pain-reducing hormones spike during the last 18 days of pregnancy.
Women are more sensitive to pain in general than men, despite the fact that they can bear the horrific pain of childbirth. In actuality, women report more pain than males do over the course of their lifetimes, and among all cohorts, white women over the age of 45 report the highest pain. Consider the prevalence rates of certain chronic illnesses to get an idea of how large this uncomfortable gender difference is:
- Compared to men, women have 40% more discomfort from osteoporosis.
- In contrast to one in seventeen men, one in five women experience migraine headaches.
- Fibromyalgia affects women nine times more frequently than it does males.
Of course, addressing the differences in pain responses between sexes goes beyond the simple premise that women are the weaker sex. Instead, the manner that male and female bodies deal with pain differs. Different brain regions will light up in a man and a woman when they place their hands on a hot burner, respectively. In 2003, UCLA researchers found that the female limbic system, the brain's emotional control center, activates while the cognitive, or analytical, part of the male brain lights up. Do women simply complain louder than males about the same amount of pain because of their emotionally aroused limbic response? Not exactly.
Pain Response According To Body Pain
Women are more voluble than men when it comes to dealing with pain. Contrarily, men typically carry their problems in silence. According to some studies, this pattern results from societal training, since boys are expected to maintain a stiff upper lip whereas gender roles allow girls to cry and express their emotions more readily. However, a University of Florida study refutes this social theory. The amount of money awarded to male and female participants by psychologists depended on how long they could keep their hands in an ice bath.
The researchers reasoned that the financial incentive would abolish any social gender conventions and give both sexes an equal incentive to keep their hands in the chilly water for the longest amount of time. The males outlived the women even with the financial incentive, though. Psychologists also speculate that women may be more sensitive to pain because of their intrinsic attentiveness. Women are typically more aware of their physical sensations, which may psychologically predispose them to pain perception. Researchers have shown that women are more sensitive to pain than men are, and that women also experience anxiety and sadness at higher rates than men.
Additionally, studies show that the natural response of female bodies to painful stimuli is stronger than that of male bodies. In one experiment, when unpleasant pressure was placed on participants' fingertips, women's pupils dilated more quickly than men's did. The study showed that the females' sharper pain reactions are uncontrollable since pupil dilation is a physiological response to pain that is regulated by the autonomic nervous system. And to top it all off, changes in a woman's hormone levels can either lessen or intensify discomfort at any particular time.
According to studies, the time of the month may have affected the women in the ice water study's ability to tolerate discomfort. Although researchers haven't been able to pinpoint exactly how the menstrual cycle affects pain, studies have found a link between estrogen and women's pain tolerances. The female body reacts to pain specifically better and releases more calming endorphins and enkephalins when estrogen levels peak. This relationship between estrogen and pain may help to explain why postmenopausal women with low estrogen are more likely to experience chronic pain syndromes like fibromyalgia. Some scientists have begun developing painkillers with a gender-specific approach due to the disparities between how male and female bodies handle pain.
Pink and Blue Painkillers?
Men and women experience pain differently, and medications designed to treat men's pain may not always or even always work as effectively on women. The U.S. up till 1993 Pharmaceutical companies frequently solely experimented on men because of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laws that prohibited "women of childbearing age" from taking part in clinical testing phases for new treatments. As a result, numerous painkiller dosages and formulations were created based on the pain response of the male body. One of the most popular medicines, morphine, doesn't work as well in either gender.
Women need at least 30% more morphine than men do for surgery patients under general anesthesia. Nalbuphine, which is frequently used to anesthetize women during childbirth, also has limited pain-relieving effects for men. These gendered impacts are attributed by scientists to differences between male and female brains. Both drugs work by stimulating opioid receptors in the brain, which block pain by inhibiting the transmission of pain signals by neurons. However, nalbuphine binds to kappa receptors while morphine attaches to mu receptors, a family of opioid receptors. However, PET scans have demonstrated that the routes through which the mu receptors in the healthy male and female brains are activated differ. Furthermore, while the kappa system predominates in females, the mu opioid system in men performs the lead role in pain relief.
The most common medicines were made to stimulate opioids since, in the past, pharmacological testing mainly concentrated on male pain responses. As a result, it has been more difficult to effectively manage chronic and severe pain in women. But now that researchers have discovered that kappa receptor opioids reduce pain more effectively in females, some are developing so-called "pink and blue painkillers" that are specifically adapted to the different pain response mechanisms in males and females. Maybe in the future, the gender pain difference will close if that becomes a medical reality.