Over the last 19 years that I have been in practice, I have noticed that I have consistently seem more men rather than women. I used to wonder about it. I used to believe that this was because women were more in touch with their emotions and so they knew far earlier that something was not right.
There is this quite common misperception that women often imagine their pain and it is often part of an attention seeking mechanism. In my experience I have yet to meet a female hypochondriac even after more than 10, 000 clients. When a woman says she feels something is not quite right, there often is. The only hypochondriac that I ever met was a male. He kept asking me to check him for cancer because his sister had had cancer. Eventually I told him to go and do medical scans to convince him that he had no cancer because all my testing did not show up any early warning cancer markers.
Until fairly recently it was controversial to suggest that there were any differences between males and females in the perception and experience of pain, but that is no longer the case,” said Dr Ed Keogh a psychologist from the Pain Management Unit at the University of Bath.
Male female differences in pain perception
“Our research has shown that whilst the sensory-focused strategies used by men helped increase their pain threshold and tolerance of pain, it was unlikely to have any benefit for women,” said Dr Keogh.
Other research by the Pain Management Unit has looked at the relationship between gender differences in anxiety sensitivity and pain. Anxiety sensitivity is the tendency to be fearful of anxiety-related sensations (e.g., rapidly beating heat), and seems to be important in the experience of pain sensations. In a study of 150 patients referred to a hospital clinic with chest pain, researchers discovered that the factors that predicted pain in men and women were different.
Researchers believe that it is the fear of anxiety-related sensations and an increased tendency to negatively interpret such sensations, both of which are more predominant in women than men that influences women’s experiences of pain.
When do men and women seek help?
Prompted by one’s cognitive appraisal of a stressor like pain, individuals respond using various coping mechanisms. Researchers have found that men and women differ in their mechanisms of coping with stress — particularly, coping with pain.
Unruh, citing other studies, reported that women more frequently use coping strategies that include “active behavioral and cognitive coping, avoidance, emotion-focused coping,
seeking social support, relaxation, and distraction.
Men rely on direct action, problem-focused coping, talking problems down, denial, looking at the bright side of life and tension-reducing activities such as alcohol consumption, smoking and drug abuse.
Researchers found that women’s ways of coping involved more expression of feelings and seeking social support, whereas men’s ways of coping “were more rational and stoic (e.g., accepting the situation, engaging in exercise).”
Other researchers found that in response to pain, women reported significantly more problem-solving, social support, positive self-statements, and palliative behaviors than men. Jensen and colleagues found that among individuals with long-term intractable pain in the neck, shoulder, or back, women increased their behavioral activity (e.g., household chores and social activities) as a coping strategy more often than men. Other studies suggest that coping strategies are influenced more by the type and duration of pain than by whether the person is a man or a woman.
Research has also shown that women, as compared to men, respond more aggressively to pain through health-related activities (e.g., taking medications or consulting a healthcare provider). This is consistent with studies that have shown that women tend to report more health-care utilization for treatment of pain than do men.
I once saw this lady who was worried about the heath of her children. Their hair mineral reports suggested significant metal toxicities and they were doing poorly healthwise. I also suggested that she check herself out. Eventually she came in with her husband and I suggested what tests they should do. They had to leave on a holiday.
When they came back, the lady sent me a email asking me about what testing she should do. I gave a a more elaborate list. Than she asked me about her husband. I gave him a simpler list of tests. She later queried me about the difference.
I replied that generally men unless they cannot work, are disabled by pain and cannot move or they are so sick and have a nervous breakdown, they maintain this veneer of stolidity and the attitude that says “I am fine”. I was being merely respectful of this. Whereas women prefer to be proactive and prefer to preempt trouble generally. She was very amused by my response.
My personal opinion is that women are more proactive, more sensitive to pain and seek earlier intervention. They are more interested in intervention before the quality of life is compromised. So serious issues are discovered earlier. Men wait until what happens to them creates an impasses in their ability to work or be effective. This may be one factor that accounts for increased life span.