Monthly Archives: August 2010

Women experience more chronic pain and they’re less tolerant of the pain than men, according to a new review of research.

WOMEN FEEL MORE PAIN THAN MEN

Women experience more chronic pain and they’re less tolerant of the pain than men, according to a new review of research.

“Globally, women have more chronic pain than men, more recurrent pain, they are more likely to have multiple sources of pain, and they are definitely neglected as it relates to treatment,” said Jennifer Kelly, an independent psychologist in Atlanta.

Kelly presented a review of research on gender and pain today at a meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Along with findings that a combination of genes, hormones, emotions and even social roles influence the experience of pain, accumulating evidence suggests that doctors might some day personalize the management of pain, based on the genders of their patients. For now, scientists are still struggling to understand the nuances of chronic pain, which is notoriously hard to treat.

“What I learned from all of my research is that you should treat women differently than men,” Kelly said. “We have to get women to see this as something they can manage instead of it having some kind of power over them.”

For years, studies have suggested that women and men differ in how they experience pain. As Kelly pulled together the literature, she found that those differences to be both real and dramatic.

A variety of chronic and painful conditions, for example, are far more common in women, including migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia — which affects at least four times more women than men. Women are less tolerant of pain. Their pain lasts longer. And they are more likely to become disabled by it.

“What’s interesting is that there are gender differences across a lot of different measures of pain,” said Beverly Thorn, a psychologist at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. “It holds for acute pain, experimental pain, recurrent pain like migraines, and chronic pain like in the lower back.”

Hormones play a part, as many symptoms worsen around that time of the month. Other biological differences come into play, too. Certain painkillers work better in males, at least in animal studies. And women experience more side effects from pain medicines.

But a significant portion of the gender imbalance may come from social and psychological factors. Multiple studies have found that women are more likely to get depressed as a result of chronic pain, and they have a higher tendency to catastrophize, Thorn said.

They think, “Oh my God, this is the most terrible pain I’ve ever had. I can’t stop thinking about it and there’s nothing I can do,” she said. “There is helplessness, magnification and rumination.”

In experiments that challenged people to hold their hands in ice-cold water, one of Thorn’s students found that people who tolerated the pain longer were less likely to have catastrophic thoughts and less likely to have emotionally vulnerable personalities. Emotional vulnerability is a traditionally feminine trait, Thorn said, and even women who play traditionally masculine sex roles have higher levels of pain tolerance and feel pain less intensely.

What was particularly interesting about the ice-water experiments, Thorn said, was that the men, who tended to be more pain-resistant, actually had higher levels of stress hormones and higher spikes in blood pressure.

At first, the researchers thought this meant that the men were acting more macho — feeling more stress internally but defying it outwardly. But then other research linked higher blood pressure with lower responsiveness to pain, suggesting that physically, the men’s experience really was different.

“I say that to point out,” Thorn said, “that this is a really intricate collaboration among biological, social and psychological factors.”

Acting macho, she added, is not going to help women cope with pain like men do. Instead, they need to accept the pain and learn how to think about it as something they can live with instead of something they’re trying to defeat. Multidisciplinary therapy can make a big difference.

“At the end of their treatments,” Thorn said, “my patients say, ‘I still have the pain. But the pain doesn’t have me.'”

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Volunteers help those with spinal injuries catch a wave

Volunteers carry Whitney Cranford of Hartsville, S.C., out to the water during the Life Rolls On Foundation ‘They Will Surf Again’ event at Wrightsville Beach on Saturday, August 7, 2010. The event gives people with spinal cord injury a chance to get in the ocean and ride waves. This is the 5th year that the event has come to Wrightsville Beach with more than 30 surfers and 140 volunteers taking part.

By David Reynolds
Dave.Reynolds@StarNewsOnline.com

Published: Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 9:48 p.m.

When she was growing up in Wilmington, Sara Jenkins loved hanging out on the beach, watching the surfers and dreaming of the day she’d get her chance to ride the waves.

But at 12, before Jenkins ever took up surfing, she was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a neurological pain syndrome, which has affected her spine and at times left her bedridden for months or years on end.

But after numerous surgeries, Jenkins, 27, walks with crutches and whenever she can find a Life Rolls On event, she surfs. Jenkins says just the thought of one day surfing helped her stay motivated through numerous medical treatments.

On Saturday, she was one of about 35 people, mostly with spinal injuries, who took part in a “They Will Surf Again” event at Wrightsville Beach, sponsored by the Life Rolls On foundation. About 200 volunteers helped the surfers into the water for a safe and exciting ride.

“It’s one of the most amazing, freeing experiences,” Jenkins said of surfing. “I’ve always wanted to and now I actually can.”

Life Rolls On is a branch of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which aims to find cures and treatments for paralysis. Members of local nonprofits and surf schools like Ocean Cure and Indo Jax, teamed with the Life Rolls On to hold the event Saturday at Wrightsville Beach.

Kevin Murphy, who directed the event said Saturday’s waves were fueled by Tropical Storm Colin, which brought some of the best surfing conditions of the summer.

Wade Nevitt, 25, is an avid surfer who lives in Wrightsville Beach. He loves the thrill of surfing, the sense of communing with nature and the idea of riding a wave that originated miles and miles away.

He said he couldn’t imagine ever having to quit, he said.

On Saturday, he helped share the sport he loves with Grey McDowell, an 18-year-old who had to stop surfing after he broke his neck jumping from a dock 14 months ago. McDowell grew up in Hatteras and had surfed all his life, but after his injury his doctor told him he would likely never fully walk again.

Now he uses a wheelchair and walks with the help of braces. McDowell surfed twice on Saturday, spent about 40 minutes in the water and said he caught his first barrel in years.

“He wanted to chase all the big ones,” Nevitt said. He and Sean Ahlun, a volunteer from Wilmington said McDowell could swim just using his arms.

For Will Archibald, 28,of Morrisville, the best part of Saturday’s event was finally hanging out on the beach again. Raised in Massachusetts, Archibald used to spend a lot of time at the ocean with friends.

But Saturday was his first full day back at the beach since he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in May 2009.

Before he arrived, Archibald says, he worried he might not have fun since he wouldn’t be able to do everything he once could.

But when he got on surf board everything changed. “I got to remember what salt water tasted like, and getting hammered with waves,” he said. “It’s cool.”

David Reynolds: 343-2075

OnTwitter.com: @StarNewsOnline

Click here for the original article online.

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