FYI Daily

New Study: Women Report More Pain Than Men

Last updated: Jan 23, 2012

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Image by juhansonin used under the creative commons attribution license.

In a study published today in the Journal of Pain, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine announced that women consistently report more pain than men, even for the same conditions.

Senior author and physician Atul Butte and his team examined 160,000 instances of pain reported in the electronic medical records of more than 72,000 adult patients treated in Stanford-affiliated hospitals. Out of those records, they chose 47 different conditions for which there were at least 40 pain reports for each gender across 11,000 adult patients.

Even disregarding women-only pain, like childbirth and menstrual cramps, general wisdom holds that women feel more pain than men in the case of certain shared conditions, like migraines and fibromyalgia. Butte's team found that the data not only supported those assumptions but went even further, with women reporting higher pain scores than men "practically across the board," said Butte.

For each pain report, patients were asked to rate their pain on a scale of one to ten, with one being no pain and ten being the worst pain imaginable. Butte and his team found that women tended to report pain almost a full point higher than men with the same condition.

The Stanford School of Medicine press release on the topic reported that the difference was not only statistically significant but also clinically significant. In other words, a doctor's response to a person's pain may be affected by a difference of just one point.

"A pain-score improvement of one point is what clinical researchers view as indicating that a pain medication is working," said Butte.

Despite these solid facts, this research couldn't provide all the answers on the interaction between gender and pain.

First, the researchers had to assume that either no one self-medicated before reporting their pain at the hospital or that women and men would be equally likely to self-medicate first.

Second, and maybe more importantly, men may just report less pain than women, especially if they're talking to a female nurse or doctor.

"It's still not clear if women actually feel more pain than men do," Butte said. "But they're certainly reporting more pain than men do. We don't know why. But it's not just a few diseases here and there; it's a bunch of them "” in fact, it may well turn out to be all of them."