Dr. Fathalla Mashali on Gender and Pain

April 5, 2012

In recent years, researchers have devoted a significant amount of time to the different ways in which the two genders interpret pain signals. Most scientists accept the premise that pain affects men and women in different ways. Many, however, are left asking why. According to researchers, testosterone and estrogen certainly play a role in this divide, but individuals must also examine the effect that culture has on interpreting pain. One who was coddled as a child will likely deal with pain differently than another who was told to act tough and ignore the pain. Some researchers would argue that this psychological contrast probably underlies most of the apparent difference in pain perception. Regardless of the cause, scientists have clearly demonstrated that the two sexes generally react to pain in distinct ways. For example, women more readily seek out coping mechanisms for pain or professional help. As a result, they show a greater resistance to letting pain become a central part of their lives and often recover from pain more quickly. The natural painkilling systems in men and women seem to operate through divergent means. Kappa-opioids, one specific class of painkillers, seem to offer better pain relief to women; these drugs have become one of the primary means of relieving labor pains. Researchers have invested many possibilities for explaining this phenomenon, such as testosterone’s potential for inhibiting the painkiller or estrogen’s ability to increase the drug’s effects. However, the difference could stem from basic psychological variations. Some studies have produced quite interesting results. In male test subjects, the introduction of estrogen into the system has produced a reduced threshold for pain. Injecting testosterone into female mice, on the other hand, increased the pain threshold. This would suggest that testosterone might bolster one’s tolerance for pain. In another experiment, female mice deprived of estrogen displayed reactions to stress similar to those of males. These results suggest that estrogen increases the ability to recognize and feel pain.


About the Author : Holding board certification in anesthesiology, Dr. Fathalla Mashali is licensed to practice medicine in nine states. He now serves patients through New England Pain Associates, treating a variety of chronic pain conditions. As a pain specialist, Dr. Fathalla Mashali commonly combines pharmacology with physical therapy and concentrates on comprehensive treatment rather than simply pinpointing the location of the patient’s pain.


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