The cellular mechanisms involved in pain perception are different in men and women. And it’s not just psychological! This nuance is often overlooked when treating pain in female patients.
Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists for more than six months, is not adequately relieved by treatment, and has a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. This type of pathology requires multidisciplinary treatment.
Several pieces of literature support the hypothesis that men and women do not experience pain in the same way. One team wanted to investigate the topic further; their work was published in the journal Brain.
Why is pain treatment the same for men and women?
Women suffer from chronic pain more often than men. This is a fact. For example, 90 percent of fibromyalgia patients are women. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from headaches and migraines. The treatment of pain, especially chronic pain, often does not take into account whether the patient is a man or a woman. The same protocols are offered to men and women. In fact, most studies of the neural circuits of pain are conducted in animals, mostly rats, almost exclusively involving males. Although human trials involve as many males as females, data from male and female subjects are rarely analyzed separately.
Different neural mechanisms
The authors wanted to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying chronic pain as a function of sex. For this purpose, spinal cord samples were collected from 10 female and 12 male deceased patients. Male and female mice and rats were also included in the study.
BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is a protein that has the property of increasing pain sensitivity. It did not elicit the same responses in female and male human tissues and in male and female animals. The neural pain mechanisms differed according to sex. More interestingly, female rats that had their ovaries removed reacted in the same way as male rats.
These results are instructive. Interpretation of data from animal and human clinical trials should be done separately for each sex. As for designing treatments to relieve pain, they should target mechanisms common to both sexes.