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Why are some pain relievers less effective in women?

He noted that accounting for these changes may have been difficult in previous research settings.

Some studies have found that ibuprofen tends to reduce pain in men more than in women. Photo: Shutterstock.

Male and female bodies are physiologically different in more ways than one, from hormone levels to molecular processes. While they may feel similar levels of pain, the different underlying biological processes mean that the same treatment may not work for both.

Researchers have been investigating whether men and women respond differently to analgesics For some time, a very small, trusted source study from 1996, for example, found that women responded more than men after receiving the opioid drug pentazocine for postoperative pain.

Much more recently, a 2021 Trusted Source review noted that while the evidence is mixed, some studies have found that ibuprofen tends to reduce pain in men more than women.

It also reported on a study that found that prednisone, a type of corticosteroid, was associated with more intolerable side effects in female participants and that they were less willing to accept an increase in dose.

To understand more about how pain works differently in bodies of different sexes, Medical News Today spoke with researchers and a pain doctor.

The problem with pain research

As a starting point, MNT spoke with the Dra. Meera Kirpekarclinical assistant professor of anesthesiology, perioperative care and pain medicine at NYU Langone, and host of a podcast on women’s health and women’s chronic pain.

“Men and women don’t have heart attacks in the same way, so why would everything else be the same? So there are differences in pain signals in the brain and spinal cord,” he noted.

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He added that as of 2016, more than 80% of pain studies only involved male participants, either humans or rats. Unlike men, women experience continual hormonal fluctuations throughout their lives that affect their sensitivity to pain.

He noted that accounting for these changes may have been difficult in previous research settings, ultimately leading to potential female participants being largely left out of study cohorts.

“As a result, most of the pain data we have exists around male-based pain signaling. In 2016, the National Institutes of Health made it a requirement for grant applications to justify their choice of the sex of the animals used.” in research, so women began to be included in studies of pain,” said Dra. Meera Kirpekar.

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