A new study adds to that evidence that certain women feel pain more acutely than others. The study found that women with a history of abuse or mood disorders related to their menstrual cycle have a decreased pain tolerance which could put them at an elevated risk of chronic pain.
One in every three women suffer from menstrual-related mood disorders that unleash a string emotional and physical symptoms during and around their periods. Symptoms of menstrual-related mood disorders are clinically similar to depression, PTSD, and panic disorder, and can significantly decrease a women’s quality of life.
One and four women say they have been the victims of domestic violence in their life, according to CDC statistics. And in a 2011 government survey, one in five women said they have experienced sexual violence in the previous year.
These women may constitute a clinically distinct subgroup of patients, suggests the results of the new study.
“It seems that a history of abuse and menstrual-related mood disorder both influence pain sensitivity, and that women who have both of these show the lowest pain thresholds,” explained the lead author of the study, Dr. Diana Fleicshman. “These findings may help explain why some women are more likely to suffer chronic pain or pain syndromes.”
Dr. Fleischman and colleagues studied 126 women who were categorized into four groups: those that a history of abuse and menstrual-related mood disorder; those that had been abused but did have a mood disorder; those who suffered from mood swings but had never been abused; and those that had neither a history of abuse or mood swings.
The researchers evaluated the women’s pain thresholds by asking them to rate their pain on a scale of one to ten as they held their hand in a bucket of ice water and tourniquet tightened their upper arm. During the tests, the researchers tracked the women’s blood levels of the stress-related hormones cortisol and norephineprine.
The women who had both a history of abuse and mood swings described the pain as more intense and unpleasant, were less able to cope with the pain than the other women, and had the lowest basal cortisol levels, demonstrating that they felt the pain more intensely.
Fleischman D, et al. Menstrually related mood disorders and a history of abuse: moderation of pain sensitivity. Health Pyschology 2013; doi: 10.1037/a0031900.