WSJ – Women Living in the Discomfort Zone

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Excerpt from Wall Street Journal:

Here’s what we do know. Clinically, women are both more likely to get chronic painful conditions that can afflict either sex and to report greater pain than men with the same condition, according to studies over the past 15 years. (Women also have more acute pain than men even after the same surgeries, such as wisdom tooth extraction, gall bladder removal, hernia repair and hip and knee surgery.)

In 2008, when researchers looked at prevalence rates in 10 developed and seven developing countries, in a sample that included more than 85,000 people, they discovered that the prevalence of any chronic pain condition was 45% among women, versus 31% among men.

In a 2009 review, researchers from the University of Florida found that, all over the world, women get more irritable bowel syndrome, more fibromyalgia, more headaches (especially migraines), more neuropathic pain (from damage to the nervous system itself), more osteoarthritis and more jaw problems such as TMD, as well as more musculoskeletal and back pain. In a large 2012 study (the biggest of its kind), Stanford University researchers confirmed this picture.

And it isn’t just clinical pain conditions that reveal an unequal burden of suffering. Sex differences have also shown up in lab experiments in which people voluntarily let scientists test their responses to pain stimuli, though recent research suggests that these differences are more complicated than once thought.

Historically, women have repeatedly been shown to be more sensitive to experimental pain stimuli than men—with lower pain thresholds (that is, they report pain at lower levels of stimulus intensity) and lower tolerance (they can’t bear intense painful stimulation as long). More recent work shows that the type of pain stimulus—heat, cold, mechanical pressure, electrical stimulation, ischemic pain (from tourniquets cutting off blood supply) and other methods—matters a lot in the attempt to tease out gender differences.

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