Written by Dr. Dave Hnida CBS4 Medical EditorWho is tougher? Men or women?

I think I can answer this in one word: childbirth.

But researchers at Stanford University say not so fast. A new study of more than 77,000 people shows women complain of pain more than men.

Now, does this mean women have more pain than men, or just complain about it more?

First the study. Not the best way to truly analyze actual pain levels, then again, there really isn’t a good way to objectively measure pain. It’s not like you can equally smack someone in the knee cap with a bat and see who howls the loudest.

Instead, researchers used self-reported pain scaled. Meaning, male and female patients were asked to rate their pain — for similar disorders– on a scale of one to 10.

And fairly steadily across the board, women placed their pain numbers higher than men. Not exactly a perfect way to conduct a study, but it was a huge one, and the results were consistent.

Women tended to complain more of issues like headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, joint aches and muscle pains. They even said their sinus infections and sprained ankles hurt more than guys did.

Now wait a second, couldn’t this be some cultural, macho, “I’m a tough guy” attitude on the part of men — living in a world where weakness, especially guy weakness, is especially frowned on?

Or is there something biological to it? Not out of the question, since women tend to show decreased pain responses in research studies during the time of ovulation, when estrogen levels are high. Women also react differently to anesthesia and pain relievers in surgical situations. Maybe they react more because of hormones. Or maybe they have more sensitive pain fibers.

Overall, it means we doctors need to pay more attention when we care for pain. Maybe women do need stronger meds than men. Or maybe the men are just lying through their teeth when they say they don’t need anything (which could be a worse problem, especially when they scurry home to their spouses, and whine the night away.)

  1. bob duncan says:

    I don’t know what pain is.

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