More than 100 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain. The large majority of them are women.
Why? For one thing, women are more likely to be diagnosed with painful conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, cystitis, migraines, and fibromyalgia. A large study that looked at the medical records of more than 11,000 patients found that women reported more pain than men across a wide range of medical conditions.
Learn about 10 Ways to Manage Chronic Pain Naturally.
In addition, women and men appear to experience pain differently. The male hormone testosterone may protect against pain, some research suggests. The female hormone estrogen, on the other hand, may intensify pain.
And when they’re in pain, men and women seem to react differently, too. Studies suggest that women have greater sensitivity to pain than men and are more likely to dwell on it.
Then again, men may simply be less willing to admit that they’re in pain—toughing it out because they think that’s the manly thing to do.
Yet when men do complain about being in pain, they may be taken more seriously than women. In an older (2001) review article in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, for example, researchers found that women were less likely to receive aggressive treatment when diagnosed with a painful condition. They were also more likely than men to have their pain dismissed as “emotional” or “all in their heads.” And a 2008 study in Academic Emergency Medicine found that women who visited emergency rooms with abdominal pain were less likely than men to be given high-strength pain medications for abdominal pain.
The take-home message for men and women alike: If you’re bothered by persistent pain, talk to your doctor. If you don’t get the kind of care you need, speak up—or ask to see another doctor.
See also: Dealing with Breakthrough Pain.