New Australian research suggests the male hormone testosterone protects men from experiencing chronic agony the way women do. Picture Gary Ramage
New Australian research suggests the male hormone testosterone protects men from experiencing chronic agony the way women do. Picture Gary Ramage

Battle of the sexes: Who handles pain better?

EXCLUSIVE: It's the ultimate battle of the sexes - just who can handle pain better.

And finally we have an answer.

Women experience worse pain than men and are eight times more likely to suffer chronic pain.

Breakthrough new Australian research suggests the male hormone testosterone protects men from experiencing chronic agony the way women do.

In a paper being peer-reviewed, gynaecologist Dr Susan Evans found women with lower levels of testosterone suffer more days of pelvic pain than women with higher levels.

Adelaide University pain expert Professor Mark Hutchinson, who is working on similar pain management research, said women were more likely to endure migraines than men.

Dr Evans said as children, boys and girls had no difference in their pain experience, but by the time they were aged 16 to 18 "girls are three to four times as likely to have a persistent pain condition than the boys".

"And they will have it on more days and it will be more severe."

Sarah Fowler suffers chronic pain but her brother Richard does not. Picture: Gary Ramage
Sarah Fowler suffers chronic pain but her brother Richard does not. Picture: Gary Ramage

She has a theory the immune system plays a role because women mount more robust immune responses than men but the flip side is they are more likely to get auto-immune conditions and possibly increased risk of chronic pain.

But there is no difference in the way men and women experience acute pain - when a man or a woman bangs their shin, the pain they experience is basically the same.

Traditionally, most pain research has been conducted on men which could be the reason why treatments are so ineffective.

But in the United States doctors have begun using testosterone to alleviate pain caused by fibromyalgia, a condition marked by generalised pain and muscle stiffness.

Prof Hutchinson is also developing a ground breaking blood test for chronic pain based around immune cells.

In recent work he found the test can tell whether women are likely to suffer from migraines or not as well as whether their migraines are moderate or severe.

It can also tell whether a person is likely to respond to triptan medications used to treat migraines.

"In our various trials we have shown that there are differences in the immune status of people who experience chronic pain" Prof Hutchinson said.

Sarah Fowler developed chronic regional pain syndrome in her legs in Year 5 and ended up in a wheelchair for six months. Picture: Gary Ramage
Sarah Fowler developed chronic regional pain syndrome in her legs in Year 5 and ended up in a wheelchair for six months. Picture: Gary Ramage

Two other Australian researchers Professor Maree Smith and Dr Bruce Wyse from the University of Queensland are trialling a breakthrough new treatment EMA401 for chronic inflammatory pain.

It has been purchased by pharmaceutical giant Novartis and speculation is it could be the next blockbuster drug.

Sarah Fowler, who developed chronic regional pain syndrome in her legs in Year 5 and ended up in a wheelchair for six months, is excited about a blood test for pain.

"That's exactly what someone like me would have dreamt of when I was missing a diagnosis because but there was no hard evidence, nothing on an X-ray," the now 22-year-old said.

Doctors could not find a cause for the pain and she welcomes the idea of a definitive blood test.

"The way I describe it as the pain signals are happening, but there's no actual harm to the body. It's sort of like a misfire signal," she said of the pain.

Comparing herself and her female friends to her brother Richard, Sarah said she definitely thinks women are more likely than men to suffer pain that is not caused by being hurt.

"A lot of women experience pain when there's nothing necessarily wrong, their body is just doing something that is natural. So they definitely have more days of pain on a normal basis," she said.

sue.dunlevy@news.com.au

 

 

Originally published as Battle of the sexes: Who handles pain better?


Severe storm warning in place for Burnett/Lockyer Valley

Premium Content Severe storm warning in place for Burnett/Lockyer Valley

A SEVERE thunderstorm warning is in place across the Wide Bay and Burnett regions...

Young rapist in Kingaroy court after breaching sentence

Premium Content Young rapist in Kingaroy court after breaching sentence

A YOUNG man was back before court after breaching his suspended prison sentence for...

Firefighters on scene at super ‘smoky’ Boondooma grass fire

Premium Content Firefighters on scene at super ‘smoky’ Boondooma grass fire

QFES firefighters are responding to a particularly ‘smoky’ grass fire, which...