Women and Pain: What a Pain!

Childbirth, menstrual cramps, yeast infections.

Women experience pain in ways that no man can. They routinely report more chronic and severe sensory and emotional discomfort in more body parts than men do and experience more pain following injuries.

Even conditions that are not gender specific, such as irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain, urinary tract infections, arthritis, and fibromyalgia hit women harder, more often, and are less easily relieved than in men, according to Roger Fillingim, a professor of psychology at University of Florida in Gainesville.

Chronic pain, which partially or totally disables 50 million Americans, is a major public health problem in the United States, according to the American Pain Society.

Forty-five percent of all Americans seek care for persistent pain at some point in their lives. While some 36 million Americans missed work in the past year due to pain, women are 50 percent more likely to call in sick than men.

Pain: A Female Complaint?

While pain has long been considered a troublesome female complaint rather than a legitimate symptom that something physically is wrong, experts say the problem is not in a woman's head; it seems to be in her nerves as well.

In studies in which women and men are subjected to the same irritant, women usually give it a higher pain rating. In rat studies, females were more than twice as prone to develop nerve pain than the males.

Why is chronic pain more common in women? At a conference co-sponsored by the Society for Women's Health Research, Georgetown University Medical Center rheumatologist Daniel Claw said women are more sensitive to pain. Claw added that certain autoimmune disorders such as lupus and pain amplification syndromes turn up more frequently in women.

Pain hits women especially hard because of the insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle atrophy, and depression that goes along with many such disorders, says James Campbell, a professor of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

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