Chronic pain is a common problem in the United States; it is estimated that 25.3 million people in the US experience chronic, severe pain every day. Within these millions of people is a disproportionate number of women. Not only are women more likely to experience chronic pain, but their pain lasts longer, is more frequent, and is more severe when compared to men. Psychology Today investigates why this is.
Women and Chronic Pain
One reason that women experience chronic pain at a higher rate than men is because they are more likely to be impacted by diseases characterized by pain. For example, women are more prone to diseases like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, temporomandibular disorders, vulvodynia, and interstitial cystitis. Even in more common diseases, such as cancer, women tend to feel more severe pain than men.
Why Do Women Experience More Chronic Pain?
Before puberty, there is no difference between men and women in terms of chronic pain. This is because the fluctuations of hormones that women experience after going through puberty lead to higher instances of pain. In fact, women are up to six times more likely to be impacted by pain after puberty. They face a higher likelihood of headaches, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Looking further into hormones, pain is more common in people with low estrogen levels and high levels of progesterone. This makes sense, as estrogen levels raise to their highest during pregnancy, helping to relieve some of the pain. Studies have even shown that a number of conditions characterized by pain improve during pregnancy.
Do Experiences Play a Role in Chronic Pain?
Trauma, abuse, stress, and current emotional state all play a role in chronic pain. A study including 380 women participants found that those with a history of trauma or abuse were more likely to experience genital and urinary conditions, which can bring high levels of pain. The researchers explained that these women remain on “alert mode;” they are always aware of stressors both inside and outside of their own body.
How to Manage Pain
Managing pain can be difficult. It requires a holistic approach, and trial and error is a common method to discover what works. in 2015, 2,400 women with chronic pain were surveyed. Results showed that they had tried everything from exercise to medical marijuana to acupuncture.
Something else that should be tried is cognitive behavior therapy. Research has shown that thinking negatively about one’s pain can actually make it worse, and this therapy steers people away from negative thoughts.
In the end, it can be very hard to live with chronic pain. Explaining it to others, finding the right treatment, and doing daily tasks can be difficult. That is why it is important to focus on self-care, thinking positively, and staying strong.