GLASGOW, Scotland — There are plenty of differences between men and women. Unfortunately, one of those differences centers around how each gender experiences pain. A new study is revealing the reason females are more prone to long-lasting pain than men. An international team finds genetic differences between the sexes may be the cause behind the chronic pain of many women.
People usually experience pain when they get injured, but expect it to go away once their wounds heal. In some cases though, the body continues to send pain signals to the brain, a condition known as chronic pain.
In many cases this lasts for years, causing mild to severe levels of discomfort on any given day and at any given time. According to the CDC, over 20 percent of America’s adult population was suffering from chronic pain in 2016.
Why women are more prone to this condition has remained a mystery. Researchers at the University of Glasgow initiated the largest ever genetic study on chronic pain to find out the reason.
“Our study highlights the importance of considering sex as a biological variable and showed subtle but interesting sex differences in the genetics of chronic pain,” corresponding author Keira Johnston says in a media release.
“Women may be at greater risk of experiencing chronic pain because the condition has a different genetic basis in men and women,” researchers write.
The pain is in the brain
Their study looked for genetic variants linked to chronic pain among 209,093 women and 178,556 men. They found women had 31 genes associated with the long-lasting condition, while men had six more.
Next, they examined whether the genes’ activity was turned up or down in tissues related to persistent pain. In particular, they examined the dorsal root ganglion, a cluster of nerves in the spinal cord which transmit pain signals from the body to the brain.
The results reveal all 37 genes in men and all but one in women were active in this area. This suggests chronic pain largely comes from the brain rather than the site where it actually hurts.
For pain to be classified as chronic it usually has to last more than 12 weeks. At least 10 percent of the world’s population suffers from chronic pain, although the figure is probably much higher. It can make getting through daily tasks challenging as it significantly reduces people’s mobility, flexibility, strength and endurance.
“Research into chronic pain – and potentially other complex conditions – will likely benefit from approaches that take sex into account,” the study authors explain. “Overall, these findings add to our understanding of chronic pain and may inform the development of novel therapies for this hard-to-treat condition.”
The findings appear in the journal PLOS Genetics.
SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.