Women who suffer from chronic pain are far more likely to feel depressed than men, according to several new studies presented at the Congress of the European Pain Federation in Florence, Italy. One reason for the difference might be the coping strategies each sex uses to control their emotions.
In a small study at Ruhr University in Germany, researchers followed 177 patients with lower back pain. Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires to determine their levels of stress and depression, as well as their readiness to suppress negative thoughts.
Women in general showed depression more frequently, as did both genders showing high levels of stress. Particularly high depression scores were found in women with high stress and a stronger tendency toward thought suppression. No such correlation was found in men.
“We detected a strong correlation between the suppression of negative thoughts or feelings, stress and the extent of depressions in patients suffering from chronic back pain,” said Professor Monika Hasenbring of Ruhr University.
“Women have a greater tendency toward thought suppression. This fact in connection with stress could help to explain why back pain in women is accompanied more frequently by depression.”
Another small study by researchers in Norway found that sleep deprivation affects the way pain is perceived by women, but not by men.
Researchers analyzed 14 women and 8 men after two nights of normal sleep and two nights of deprived sleep (50% sleep). After being exposed to a pain test, women deprived of sleep were found to be more sensitive to pain and to perceive pain more strongly. In men, pain inhibition and pain perception did not differ whether or not they got a good night’s sleep.
Another study at an Italian pain clinic found that female patients not only feel greater pain and have a lower pain threshold, but they are also more likely to have comorbid psychiatric disorders.
Of the 855 patients in the study, about 30% were found to be suffering from depression. Close to three quarters of them were women.
“In women, a correlation was also found between increased sensitivity to pain and panic attacks, anxiety disorders or psychosomatic disorders,” said study author Dr. Antonella Ciaramella from the University of Pisa.
Women with chronic pain are also more sensitive to sounds than their male counterparts, according to researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada. In their study, the auditory sensitivity of 41 subjects was measured; 23 of them were chronic pain patients.
“The chronic pain patients were more sensitive to sounds than the control group. This effect was substantially greater in women suffering from chronic pain. Chronic pain patients should be told about the possible negative effects of sound on their disorders,” said Dr. Mehdi Nazemi.
Finally, a study conducted by British researchers found that women whose spouses were being treated for musculoskeletal pain have a tendency to develop such conditions themselves.
“Possible explanations for this include the fact that married couples are exposed to similar environments, and they might also develop shared illness beliefs. Social factors and the role of partners should be taken into account when treating sufferers of musculoskeletal pain,” said study author Dr. Paul Campbell of Keele University in Stoke-on-Trent, UK.
Researchers analyzed data from over 27,000 people and found that nearly a third (31%) suffered from pain in the musculoskeletal system. The probability of wives seeking treatment for similar complaints as their husbands was highest in cases of shoulder disorders.