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Do Men of Any Age Feel Pain More Than Women?

It has been an argument that has raged for centuries in a kind of never-ending gender wars. Do men suffer pain more than women?

The answer has usually depended on which side of the gender divide you fall. It may also depend on your age. Older people get used to carrying more pain, as do people with certain debilitating diseases, but is it as simple as saying: all age men, or all age women?

Obviously men suffer colds more severely, and ‘man flu’ has become a terribly misplaced joke, especially when a man is suffering the debilitating condition. But do we actually feel pain more acutely than women, with their bodies custom-made to carry and deliver babies?

Up to now science has suggested that women in fact feel more pain than men. The Week reported a study (Jan 12) from the Journal of Pain which found than women experience higher levels of pain than men by a large margin.

They looked at 11,000 men and women patients at a given hospital and clinic, suffering 47 different disorders with 250 different diagnoses from cancer to back illness to infectious diseases to reach the conclusion. ‘Pain was particularly more potent for women in the lower back, knee, neck muscles, and sinuses’.

Pain Maps

Well, now technology is set to resolve the issue once and for all.

University College London is helping to build pain maps of the brain to pinpoint both location and intensity of pain. Brain scanning techniques from magnetic resonance imaging are being applied to determine how the brain responds to pain and signals the different parts of the body.

The signals in the brain reveal how much pain a person is in. At present, doctors have to ask patients to identify the locations of their own pain and measure it on a scale on 1-10. This is unsatisfactory as it allows some to exaggerate their pain, as if most men would!

Now accurate readings should be available allowing proper treatment. Parallel studies at at Aichi Gakuin University in Japan are measuring electrical brain activity on volunteers undergoing dental treatment.

Perhaps the biggest benefit will come for coma and other patients who are unable to communicate symptoms for whatever reason. Now doctors can find out if they are in pain and treat it accordingly.

The Jokes Go On. And On.

This is marvellous news. It will come as a relief, as another playing field is levelled.

However, the jokes, often from women, may go on, particularly if the new techniques reveal that in general men have been malingerers all along. So it may turn out to be a mixed blessing for half the population.

Read On:
The Week, January 2012, Do women feel more pain than men?

The NHS and New Technology

Image: Shayan Sanyal