Researchers are examining both if and why women perceive pain to be more intense than men.

By Kelly Vaughan
August 26, 2019
Credit: Getty Images

If you're a woman who frequently reports feelings of physical pain to your doctor, you're not alone. Researchers have been studying pain perception between men and women at the University of Florida Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence. Their most recent findings reveal that women feel pain more intensely than men. To test men and women's pain tolerance, researcher and psychologist Roger Fillingim proctored experimental pain sessions by applying a probe to the arm of patients to stimulate pressure, heat, cold, and electrical stimulation.

"The burden of pain is substantially greater for women than men," says researcher and psychologist Roger Fillingim. During the stimulation, women and men were asked to rank their pain on a scale of zero to ten, zero being no pain at all and ten being the most intense pain. "On average, women report the same stimuli to be more painful than men," Fillingim told NPR.

However, Fillingim isn't just interested in which gender experiences more pain, but why women generally seem to have a lower tolerance for pain. One theory is that women "have both higher levels and fluctuations in circulating estrogens and progesterone, and those may contribute to experiencing higher levels of pain…whereas men have higher levels of testosterone," he says. High levels of testosterone have are generally associated with lower pain sensitivity.

Another factor is that women experience more frequent physical pain than men, such as monthly menstruation and childbirth. These extreme painful conditions teach women how to talk about, and admit to experiencing, intense physical pain.

Because women may be more adept at experiencing pain, they're also more likely to report the pain to a doctor and thus are more likely to be prescribed opioids. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2018 revealed that more than 6,600 women have died from prescription painkiller overdoses since 2010, nearly 18 women each day. While more than 10,000 men have died from overdoses since 2010, the gap is closing, the CDC reports.


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