Women feel pain more intensely, more often than men

January 23, 2012

Women feel pain more intensely than men across a number of diseases, including diabetes, arthritis and certain respiratory infections, according to a study of gender differences in self-reported pain.

Women feel pain more intensely than men across a number of diseases, including diabetes, arthritis and certain respiratory infections, according to a study of gender differences in self-reported pain published online January 13 in the Journal of Pain.

"Our data support the idea that sex differences exist, and they indicate that clinicians should pay increased attention to this idea," the authors wrote.

Across most disorders, women’s pain scores averaged 20% higher than men’s; they were consistently higher for lower back pain, and knee and leg strain. Women also reported more cervical pain and sinus pain (during sinus infections). The most significant gender-specific differences occurred in disorders of the musculoskeletal, circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems, followed by infectious diseases, injury, and poisoning.

The results are in line with abundant earlier findings that gender differences in pain sensitivity may be present in many more diseases than previously thought. Studies on specific conditions show similar results. A recent study on gender difference for pain and function in osteoarthritis shows that women have greater pain, greater pain sensitivity, and reduced function when compared to men. The authors advise additional study to determine whether these differences are due to hormonal differences, socialization, or other factors.

Electronic medical records of 11,000 hospital patients were used to correlate gender differences with diagnosis-associated pain scores on a self-reported scale of zero (no pain) to 10 (worst pain imaginable). Researchers found more than 160,000 pain scores in more than 250 primary diagnoses, and analyzed differences in disease-specific pain reported by men and women.

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