Gender Differences in Responses to Pain

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The old stereotype that men are 'tougher' than women when it comes to experiencing pain has come under scrutiny by
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scientists at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Studying people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the researchers were able to uncover gender differences in brain responses to pain.

The Study

Conducted by the Center for Neurovisceral Sciences & Women's Health (CNS) at UCLA, the study examined 26 women and 24 men with IBS. UCLA researchers took positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans of patients during mild pain stimuli. Although there were some common areas of response, there were also considerable differences. The female brain showed greater activity in limbic regions, which are emotion-based centers. In men, the cognitive regions, or analytical centers, showed greater activity.

Implications

According to the researchers, these differences may be due to evolution: "men's cognitive areas may be more highly triggered because of the early male role in defending the homestead, where in response to stress and pain, the brain launched a calculated fight-or-flight reaction." Women's response may be explained as related to the need to provide a nurturing response for the young, requiring more emotions when facing pain and stress. The researchers insisted that both responses have advantages and are in fact complimentary.

In addition, researchers found that the anticipation of pain generated the same brain responses from study volunteers as the actual pain stimulus.

The importance of these findings lies in its application to medical treatment for pain relief. So far, some medication targets the limbic area of the brain - such as for IBS medication. This has proven to have greater benefits for women than for men. The authors argued: "This growing base of research will help us develop more effective treatments based on a new criteria: gender."

See Also

Sources




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