Medically reviewed by
Dr. Candice Greenan
McLeod OB/GYN Associates
Aches and Pains. Everyone has them, right? Well, research reveals that women experience pain far differently and more severely than men, especially chronic pain.
“Pain is something my patients regularly want to discuss,” says McLeod OB/GYN Dr. Candice Greenan. “The US Food & Drug Administration says women report more pain than their male counter parts. This raises two related questions. First, what is the cause of the gender difference? Second, why are there not pain medications developed specifically for women?”
WHY THE DIFFERENCE?
Research reflects that women have a greater sensitivity to pain regardless of body part or illness involved, including migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, jaw disorders, back pain, diabetes and arthritis.
No single cause has been confirmed for this difference in pain. A number of proposed possibilities include different biological pathways for chronic pain, sex hormones or an interaction of biological, psychological and sociocultural factors. As a result, research continues.
WHY NOT FEMALE-SPECIFIC PAIN MEDICATION?
This answer is simple. For most of a century, pharmaceutical researchers didn’t account for the difference between men and women for metabolism, immune systems and gene expressions that might affect how drugs work differently in women.
Researchers used mostly male animals in testing. In fact, as recently as 2005, 79% of pain studies involved only male animals.
It wasn’t until 1993 that Congress passed a law requiring women to be included in human clinical trials. For most studies, the results did not break out results for women versus men. This lack of female-specific medications may be one reason that women are more likely to be prescribed pain medications, including addictive opioids.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
Keep a pain diary to review with your OB/GYN, noting where you feel pain in your body, what it feels like and what time of day you feel the pain. Don’t mix alcohol with medications. It could trigger a stronger
reaction, even stop your breathing. Tell your OB/GYN if you feel you are becoming dependent on a certain pain medication.
Find an OB/GYN near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, Harvard Health, Brain Journal, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Scientific American, National Institutes of Health