There is a known link between chronic pain and hormones. In this blog, we explain more.
Chronic pain syndrome is a significant public health problem that disproportionately affects women. In total, it’s estimated that around 7.8 million people in the UK are currently living with some form of chronic pain. The link between chronic pain syndrome and hormones has been a topic of conversation amongst researchers and medical experts for some time, with many believing that gender plays a pivotal role. In this blog, we reveal more.
Research on gender and pain is a topic of major scientific and clinical influence, with many experts suggesting chronic pain is more prevalent among women. Women tend to suffer disproportionately from conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, jaw problems and much more. According to a study in the journal Pain Research and Management, women are also four to seven times more likely to suffer from fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that causes severe pain all over the body, than men.
Hormones may be to blame for these differences, says Kelly, PHD of the Atlanta Center for Behavioural Medicine, who added that estrogen clearly plays a role in conditions such as migraines. Whilst the frequency of painful conditions increases slowly, or remains stable throughout male adolescence, research shows a profound upward spike for females. As stated by Kelly, “pain perception does vary according to the menstrual cycle phases in women with chronic pain”. This raises the question as to whether certain biological factors during this period of life, unique to women, increase the risk of developing pain.
From puberty onwards, men have significantly higher levels of testosterone, a hormone that has an ‘analgesic’ effect, protecting against the development of painful conditions. Whilst men are protected by higher levels of testosterone, for women, hormones, puberty, reproductive status and menstrual cycle are all known to have a negative impact on pain threshold and perception. Subsequently, while the frequency of painful conditions rises slowly, or remains stable throughout male adolescence, research shows a profound upward spike upwards for females.
As stated by Michael Moskowitz, assistant clinical professor for the department of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of California: “the statistics are startling in some conditions like fibromyalgia – women are so much more likely to have fibromyalgia than men are” and “when you look at that, it only makes sense that something biological is occuring”.
Medical experts have speculated over a number of reasons why women experience pain and respond to pain medications differently than men. Differences between men and women in the perception and experience of sustained pain may be due, in part, to the influence of reproductive hormones on the brain.
Doctors believe there is a particularly strong link between pain reception and female hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. Female hormones can cause neurochemical changes that intensify pain sensations: “some of the breakdown products of progesterone prevent the inhibitory neurotransmitter from working,” and “when that happens, the nerves just keep firing.” Dr. Moskowitz said.
Also, some pain conditions, such as migraines, tend to vary depending on a woman’s menstrual cycle. These findings promise to lead to a greater understanding of how and why certain diseases characterised by chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia and TMJ, occur more often in women than in men.
There is copious evidence that sex steroid hormones affect pain and that this may be, at least in part, responsible for the differences in pain experience between men and women. However, it is also clear that the relationship is not a simple one and, as a result, further research is required. It is certainly a topic we will continue to monitor moving forward.
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