Women reported feeling more pain in 39 of 47 health problems examined by researchers.
While it is sometimes said men can’t take pain as well as women, because they don’t go through childbirth, researchers found that not to be the case.
When they looked at the pain scores of more than 72,000 patients, across 47 common health problems, they discovered that on average women reported feeling more pain in 39 of them.
Atul Butte from Stanford University in the US, the senior author of the study, said: “We saw higher pain scores for female patients practically across the board.
“In many cases, the reported difference approached a full point on the one-to-10 scale.”
Explaining how big a difference that was, he said: “A pain-score improvement of one point is what clinical researchers view as indicating that a pain medication is working.”
The biggest differences were in problems with joints, digestion, circulation and breathing disorders. This report also found women reported worse migraines and neck pain, something previous studies have not identified.
If women did commonly experience more pain than men that could be a lesson doctors needed to take on board, said Butte and his colleagues in the report, published in the Journal of Pain.
“Our data support the idea that sex differences exist, and they indicate that clinicians should pay increased attention to this idea,” they wrote/
However, pain experts are still not sure that women do actually experience more pain, said Butte. It might just be that men are culturally programmed to be macho and not admit how much pain they really feel.
The problem is that pain is a subjective experience that differs from person to person and is not easily nailed down or identified on a number scale, said Butte.
“Men may be under-reporting it, say if they are being seen by a female nurse,” he suggested.
Although this new study did not look at it, previous studies have shown that women’s perception of pain varies over the menstrual cycle.
This is thought to be principally due to variation in the level of the female sex hormone oestrogen in the blood.
During childbirth oestrogen floods the body, prompting the release of endorphins, brain chemicals that suppress the reception of pain signals.
In a normal cycle, oestrogen levels peak just before ovulation, dropping again after the egg is released.