Do Women Really Have a Higher Threshold for Pain?

By Rebecca Jones

It has always been common wisdom that women have a higher threshold for pain than men but according to a new Stanford study this cliché may not hold truth.

After reviewing tens of thousands of patient records researchers found that women reported more severe pain than men across a wide spectrum of illnesses and injury.

Researchers were able to access electronic records of 72,000 patients, 160,000 pain scores and 250 different medical issues to collect their data. They narrowed this information down to 11,000 patients and the 47 most common ailments. With pain being judged on a scale of 0-10, 0 being no pain at all and 10 being the worst pain one can imagine, women on average reported their pain being 20% more severe than men. Types of pain reviewed included everything from digestive disorders and sinus infections to neck pain and ankle sprains and women consistently reported more intense pain in 39 of the 47 categories.

While this is not the first study conducted on gender and its effects on pain threshold, it is the first to have access to such large amounts of patient data. Earlier studies had indicated that women may report more severe pain but the scope was limited to specific illnesses such as having one’s wisdom teeth removed.

Though the study was able to detect differences in the way men and women report pain it was unable to explain what the reason is behind the difference. Do women actually feel more pain? Researchers believe that there could be several things contributing to this difference including psychological, biological or social factors. For example men may be embarrassed to admit how severe there pain is and depression and anxiety, much more common in women, can increase one’s sensitivity to pain. Doctors are also considering that there is a biological or hormonal process that makes women suffer more pain than men.

While doctors say there is much work that still needs to be done when it comes to gender research in the medical field, they feel that this study is a step in the right direction to better understand gender-specific pain issues.