Who really tolerates pain better – men or women? The way I’ve seen men complain when they’re sick or hurting makes me think that the female sex might be more “stoic” when it comes to suffering. We do, after all, birth babies.

But am I wrong?

A Battle Royale

There’s no doubt that an ongoing battle of the sexes exists, where men and women constantly argue their equality or even superiority over the other gender. And it would seem that if this metaphorical battle ever became literal, the male might be able to handle pain a little better than his female counterpart.

Women and Painful Conditions

It has already been known that women are more prone to developing pain-related conditions such as chronic migraines, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as severe chronic pain after childbirth. But those incidents of pain do not necessarily depend on pain tolerance.  According to new research from Stanford University, in instances where men and women are suffering from the same medical condition, whether it is a back problem, arthritis or a sinus infection, women appear to suffer more from the pain than men.

Details of the Study

The research, which was published online in the aptly named The Journal of Pain, analyzed data from medical records of over 11,000 patients who had their pain scores recorded on a regular basis as part of their caregiver’s routine.  Due to the recent epidemic of chronic pain, which is estimated by the Institute of Medicine to affect close to 116 million Americans, more researchers have focused on studying pain in a broad sense.  This new study’s results might shed light on an uneven amount of pain that is burdened on women, and could trigger more focused, gender-specific research.

To measure pain, a doctor asks their patient to describe their pain on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 meaning no pain at all and 10 being excruciating, unimaginable pain.  Twenty-two different ailments were studied across sample sizes large enough to produce meaningful results.  When it came to back pain, women usually scored an average of 6.03, where men scored 5.53.  For pain in the joints, women scored 6.0 while men reported 4.93.  On average, women reported pain to be a whole point higher than men, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the medical world it is considered a meaningful difference.  For certain ailments like diabetes, hypertension and ankle injuries, the women reported scores that far exceeded any man’s.

Ultimately, women experienced pain levels around 20 percent higher than men, though the data does not give any insight as to why women tend to report higher levels of pain.  Other signs that women and men experience pain differently are their individual responses to anesthesia and pain killers.  With these new results showing that women handle pain differently than men, more focused research may be able to provide highly personalized care for both genders.

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