Gender may affect the way people feel pain

Do men and women feel pain differently? A new study finds an unexpected gender divide.

Researchers found that men tend to report feeling more pain after major surgeries than women, whereas women tend to report experiencing more pain after minor surgical procedures than men.

In the study, researchers found that men were 27 percent more likely to report higher pain ratings after a major surgery such as a knee replacement, while women were 34 percent more likely to report experiencing more pain after procedures that the researchers labeled as minor, such as biopsies. (The researchers differentiated between "major" and "minor" procedures depending on the intensity of pain that people typically expect to feel after a particular procedure.)

To conduct the study, the researchers interviewed 10,200 patients from the University Hospitals of the Ruhr University of Bochum, Germany, following an operation, over more than four years. About 42 percent of the patients were male and 58 percent were female.

Initially, the study authors didn't find significant differences between the genders in people's overall experience of postoperative pain. However, that changed when the researchers distinguished between different kinds of surgeries.

The researchers are not sure where these differences stem from; however, they speculate that a lot may depend on the kind of surgery a person is undergoing. For instance, procedures such as cancer-related biopsies or an abortion may take a particularly serious emotional toll on women, and therefore exacerbate their individual perceptions of pain.

"It could be anxiety," study author Dr. Andreas Sandner-Kiesling of Medical University of Graz, Austria, told CBS News.

"This is a very interesting study," Dr. M. Fahad Khan, an assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at NYU Langone Medical Center, told CBS News. "Ten thousand patients in any type of study is a huge number, and it is really great to see studies on that number of patients because it can limit a lot of the bias that some studies have."

Khan noted he found it interesting that in women, even smaller procedures "can be fraught with the development of pain problems after the procedure," which many people may not expect when they go to the hospital for a simple biopsy, he said.

Sandner-Kiesling said he did not think the findings should change the way men and women are treated for pain. "Clinically, there is no relevance," he said.

According to certain popular cultural stereotypes, women are often considered to be tougher about dealing with pain than men, but is this really the case?

"Anecdotally, people will say that women have a higher threshold for pain and they are more tolerant to pain, just because of their life experience. And perhaps, emotionally, maybe they are stronger than men," Khan said. "However, medically, in my experience, we haven't really noticed much of a difference with regard to men and women in the development of problems with dealing with severe and chronic pain."

The new study is presented at this year's Euroanaesthesia meeting in Stockholm.

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