Study Finds Women Experience More Intense Pain Then Men
January 23, 2012

Study Finds Women Experience More Intense Pain Then Men

When suffering from the same medical conditions, on average, women claim to experience more intense pain than men, according to a new study published online in The Journal of Pain on Monday.

According to a Stanford University Medical Center press release, physician Dr. Atul Butte and colleagues looked at the electronic medical records of more than 72,000 male and female patients.

The data covered a spectrum of 47 different total ailments and more than 161,000 instances where a patient was asked to describe pain levels on a scale of 0 to 10 (which "0" being no pain and "10" being the worst pain imaginable).

The researchers narrowed their findings down to 14 disorders, including back problems, arthritis, and sinus pain, Helen Shen of reported. In each case, women said that they experienced "greater suffering" then men, though most of the differences were described as small, she added.

"We saw higher pain scores for female patients practically across the board," Butte, the chief of systems medicine in the department of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a statement. "In many cases, the reported difference approached a full point on the 1-to-10 scale. How big is that? A pain-score improvement of one point is what clinical researchers view as indicating that a pain medication is working."

“That was the most surprising finding,” he added in an interview with Time's Alice Park on Monday . “We completely wouldn´t have expected such a difference across almost all disorders, where women were reporting a whole pain point higher on the 0-to-10 scale than men.”

One possible cause for the phenomenon, Park said, is that the hormone estrogen could dampen women's pain receptors, making them potentially more sensitive to feelings of pain. Another, she says, could be machismo -- men might feel compelled to give a lower number to appear that the agony affects them less.

“The reasons may be biological or they may not be, but we should still be aware of the bias that patients have in reporting pain,” Butte said.

However, some experts have criticized the study, according to Susan Donaldson James and Dr. Elizabeth Chuang of They point out that the authors did not consider whether or not other disease may have caused additional pain in the women, thus being the root cause of the pain-level ranking differences."

Dr. Lloyd Saberski, medical director of the Advanced Diagnostic Pain Treatment Centers at Yale University, told James and Chuang that the Stanford study was "flawed" and that the data was "probably not too accurate." Saberski added that it was a "dangerous" and potentially misleading report, and contributes "nothing" to the medical profession's understanding of pain mechanisms.


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