(CBS) Who hurts more, men or women? A new Stanford University study examining patients' medical records found surprisingly clear results: across the board, women report higher levels of pain than men.
For the study, researchers reviewed patients' electronic medical records. EMRs are used by only about one percent of hospitals in the U.S. today - including two Stanford-affiliated hospitals. Patients at these hospitals report their feelings of pain, typically in the form of scores on a scale of 0 to 10 - 0 meaning "none at all" and 10 meaning "the most imaginable."
Stanford Pediatrics professor Dr. Atul Butte and his colleagues reviewed 160,000 pain reports from over 72,000 patients. And after crunching the numbers, found a clear gender gap.
"In many cases, the reported difference approached a full point on the 1-to-10 scale," Butte said in Stanford's Scope journal. "How big is that? A pain-score improvement of one point is what clinical researchers view as indicating that a pain medication is working." This makes the data not just statistically significant, but also clinically significant.
"We actually use these numbers," Butte said. "We use these as a kind of threshold - when do we start pain medicine? Are we treating someone with enough pain medicine? We need to have that understanding that there is a sex difference here."
The results were published in the Jan. 16 online edition of the Journal of Pain.
What accounts for the difference?
Since the data were self-reported, the explanation may be that women more readily report pain than men do. Since nurses often take these records, men may have been more reluctant to admit their pain to female nurses. Or the difference may be hormonal.
"Why the pain responses are at the higher level in females, we really don't know. Is it completely psychologically based? Is it related to hormones? We are really not clear," Dr. Prasad Movva with Kaiser San Jose's chronic pain program told the San Francisco Chronicle. "But this report is a good start definitely."
Why do you think women and men reported such different levels of pain?