Abused Women More Susceptible To Pain

Abused Women More Susceptible To Pain

file0002051872532The trauma of being sexually abused is more than psychological for many women – it can also lead to chronic pain.

In the first study of its kind, British researchers examined the links between menstrual-related mood disorder and a history of physical or sexual abuse.

They discovered that women who have been abused and experience strong mood changes during their menstrual cycle also feel pain more acutely than other women.

“It seems that a history of abuse and menstrual-related mood disorder both influence pain sensitivity, and that women who have both of these show the lowest pain thresholds,” said Dr. Diana Fleischman, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Portsmouth.

“These findings may help explain why some women are more likely to suffer chronic pain or pain syndromes.”

Menstrual-related mood disorder is characterized by emotional and physical symptoms that come and go depending on the time of the month. It is more severe than common pre-menstrual tension, effecting about one in ten women.

Symptoms are similar to major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder for the impact they can have on a woman’s quality of life. 

Researchers say the study, published in the journal Health Psychology, adds to the growing body of evidence that sexually abused women may be a clinically distinct sub-group of patients.

Over 125 women were divided into four groups: Those who had been abused and suffered menstrual-related mood disorder; those who had been abused but didn’t suffer mood swings; those who had never been abused and suffered mood swings; and those who had never been abused and didn’t suffer from mood swings.

The women were then subjected to two different pain tests; holding their hand in an ice water bath and tightening a tourniquet on the upper arm. They also had their blood levels monitored for stress-related norepinephrine and cortisol hormones.

Women who experienced mood swings and had a history of abuse could cope with the pain for significantly less time than other women,  and described their pain as more intense and unpleasant. They also had the highest levels of stress, indicating they felt pain more acutely.

“We have known for some time that emotional factors, and a history of abuse, are major predictors for the development of chronic pain, and the trajectory of chronic pain,” said Beth Darnall, PhD, a professor in the Division of Pain Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

“This study shows that such a relationship exists in menstrual mood disorders in the context of acute pain.  Women with a history of abuse and menstrual mood disorder are more sensitive to pain.  Other research has shown that this sensitivity to pain is a predictor for the development of chronic pain. Overall, the findings suggest we need to do a better job at assessing and treating people who have a history of trauma,” Darnall told National Pain Report.

The study also serves as vindication for many women, says author Cynthia Toussaint, whose own experience with chronic pain, chronicled in her book Battle For Grace: a Memoir of Pain, Redemption and Impossible Love, was often dismissed by doctors as being “all in my head.”

“While we already know that men and women experience pain differently, I’m excited to see research that further establishes reasons why women are prone to chronic pain,” said Toussaint. “Better pain management for women is desperately needed, and this study is a step in the right direction.”

Toussaint says many women who suffer from chronic pain are under-diagnosed, under-treated, and often the victim of gender bias.

Authored by: Richard Lenti

There are 4 comments for this article
  1. anna caponi at 11:13 pm

    please somebody help i truly can not take any more

  2. Joan Miller at 3:33 pm

    I remembered my student back in college making a testimony about her mother. Her mother works as a domestic helper abroad and has experienced sex abuse. She was held captive by her own boss and made as a sex slave. After several years, she returned back to her own country. Her family was happy to see her again not knowing her traumatic experience. One night, my student and her siblings got panic when their mother was shouting that she was raped. They immediately went to her mother’s room and found father lying on floor full of blood because he was stabbed by their mother.

  3. Mark S. Barletta at 12:25 pm

    Now if we can just get doctors to listen to women when they say they have chronic pain we would be making some headway. But for most women that complain of chronic pain its being set aside as just menstrual-related mood swings.
    I cant see how a man could ever understand how a woman would feel after being sexually molested.
    I just cant see the pleasure a man would get forcing themselves on a woman. Does this make them more of a man, I would think not, It would make them lesser of a man in my mind.

  4. Anonymous at 6:57 pm

    There is a some research that shows that early abuse affects both women and men. Some implies that both are more likely to develop Heart disease, and other things that lower lifespan.
    There is also some data that Women are more prone to injury during their periods.
    My Concerns about these articles is that they get misinterpreted by the male dominated medical community. As a victim of abuse in childhood, and having the physical effects of the physical abuse, affecting me throughout my life. These injuries are now chronic pain. I am a woman, I know that I am more prone to pain during my period, yet I think I am not “sensitive” to pain. I find the word offensive, especially after being misdiagnosed for years, I was actually told my Back pain, from a ruptured disc, was Peri Menopause! My Current Dr. Who is exceptional, says I am “Stoic” I get injections without anesthesia, it adds too much time of the procedure and I don’t like the groggy feeling.
    These kinds of articles make another justification to ignore pain in women. I think I have a higher threshold for pain than many men. Menstrual or not!
    I am tired of hearing about the differences, these have historically been used to ignore pain in women.