Do women feel more pain than men? Or are they just more likely to complain about it? The answer to both questions appears to be “Yes” according to a new study at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Researchers mined a large data base of electronic medical records and found that women report more acute pain than men in almost every disease category. The study is being reported in the Journal of Pain.
Researchers studied the electronic medical records of 72,000 patients, both men and women, to see how pain could be gender-related. Pain was reported on a scale from 1 to 10, with zero being “no pain” and 10 being considered the “worst imaginable” pain.
“We saw higher pain scores for female patients practically across the board,” said Dr. Atul Butte, senior author of the study and a professor of systems medicine in pediatrics. “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.”
Researchers have known for some time that women suffering from migraines or fibromyalgia are more likely to complain of pain than men. But the Stanford study found that was also true for other medical problems, including neck pain and sinusitis.
“It’s still not clear if women actually feel more pain than men do,” said Butte. “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. No matter what the disease, women appear to report more intense levels of pain than men do.”
“We’re certainly not the first to find differences in pain among men and women,” Butte noted. “But we focused on pain intensity, whereas most previous studies have looked at prevalence, the percentage of men vs .women with a particular clinical problem who are in pain. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first-ever systematic use of data from electronic medical records to examine pain on this large a scale, or across such a broad range of diseases.”
Only about 2% of hospitals in the U.S. currently have electronic medical records, but that should approach 100 percent within the next few years, according to Butte. Large scale studies using clinically collected data will then become more feasible.
There are still remaining questions left for Dr. Butte and his staff to answer. He wants to determine whether the age of a patient determines when they report pain. For instance, will an 18-year-old male complain of pain to his buddies, or just to his mother? If you ask a mom this question, she will know the answer immediately without any in-depth research.
One thing is for sure. The study will spur many a discussion among the sexes on yet another difference between the two. It could give a whole new meaning to “Sorry, I have a headache.” No dear, I really do. Medical science has proven it.