Expatica news

Men’s hormones make them “feel” pain differently than women do

1 January 2008

Hamburg, Germany (dpa) – Men’s hormones make them "feel" pain less intensely or at least differently than women do, according to pioneering new research involving transsexuals in Germany.

Female-to-male sex-change procedures involving transsexuals undergoing hormonal treatment show that post-procedure subjects say their new lives as males are literally less painful than their previous lives as females.

"Testosterone appears to reduce sensibility to pain, whereas estrogen actually increases pain sensitivity," says Professor Hartmut Goebel, director of the Pain Clinic in Kiel, Germany.

Post-procedural transsexuals who have received testosterone as part of their sex-change report that they experience lower overall pain levels since having become men, Dr Goebel says.

Not only do they experience lower levels of pain in a quantitative sense, but the quality of pain is different, he adds.

"The female brain colours pain with more emotional responses," says Goebel. "Men aren’t bluffing when they say they can ignore pain. Their brains actually do in fact allow them to mask low-level pain in a way that women’s brains do not."

Women suffer far more frequently from migraines and chronic pain in the neck and shoulders, he points out.

"Up to 70 percent of women suffer from frequent severe headaches, as opposed to only 52 percent of men," he says.

On the other hand, women are more willing to submit themselves to painful procedures and situations such as eyebrow plucking, leg waxing and wearing uncomfortable shoes or tight garments.

"And women heed pain as a warning signal and more frequently consult physicians when they experience pain, while men’s tendency to ignore pain means they sometimes fail to go to the doctor until a situation is seriously advanced," Goebel notes.

He points out that 70 percent of the patients at his pain clinic in Kiel are female.

"Men tend to suffer in silence, thinking it’s not all that bad," he theorizes. "But women say ‘I just can’t stand this’ and so they seek medical help."

Ironically, little research has been done on therapy for chronic pain patients, he says.

"Traditionally, most studies involving the effects of pain medication have involved male test subjects," Goebel says, "despite the fact that 80 percent of pain medication is administered to women."