Women are no strangers to pain. In addition to experiencing the obvious, like periods symptoms (which some doctors claim can cause cramps as painful as heart attacks) and childbirth, women are also significantly more prone to endometriosis and chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia than men are. And so, the fact that doctors and experts have consistently undermined women’s pain is infuriating. A new study has found fundamental biological differences in pain receptors between the sexes (at least in mice), and it’s a scientific explanation for why female pain and health has been vastly overlooked by the medical community.
Following a 2014 mandate from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) acknowledging sex as a biological variable and therefore requiring testing to be done on male and female animals, this NIH study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, examined pain receptors in male and female mice and found them to be extremely different. While the researchers were able to manipulate certain receptors in the male mice to abolish chronic pain, doing the same to female mice had no effect. Basically, pain registers differently for males and females at the cellular level.
“We’ve been overlooking a key variable for a long time, and I’m as guilty as everyone else,” said Ted Price, PhD and co-author of the study, adding that the recent mandated inclusion of both female and male animals in test studies has led to a slew of discoveries and findings that were previously overlooked.
While a caveat of this study is that it was conducted on mice (as are many other medical studies), it’s speculated that pain receptors in humans would mirror the mice’s in being sex-specific, according to Inverse.
In a press release, Ted Price, PhD and co-author of the study, admitted, “We’ve been overlooking a key variable for a long time, and I’m as guilty as everyone else.” He added that the recent mandated inclusion of both female and male animals in test studies has led to a slew of discoveries and findings that were previously ignored in situations when preclinical and clinical trials yielded different results likely due to the sex disparity.
Dr. Price explained further that this has led to the mistreatment of women: Since preclinical investigators studied males and clinical trials studied females (“because more women suffer chronic pain than men,” he said), the findings would be inconsistent.
Ultimately, the findings could lead to sex-specific drugs that are more effective at managing chronic pain, according to Dr. Price. Here’s hoping this is the first of many studies that ramp up how seriously women’s health is taken.
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