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Pain ‘felt more by women than men’

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Women respond more intensely to pain than men, according to researchers.

The pain-avoidance parts of a woman’s brain are responsible, showing that females respond to pain in a different way, the researchers said.

Neurological activity and the reactions to pain were monitored in 16 women and 16 men in a joint study by academics from Japan and London, using MRI scanners.

The study looked at how the sexes respond to chronic conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome which is found more in women than men.

In the period before the tests were carried out, the female participants were shown to have less activity in the parts of the brain which process fear and more activity in the parts which help the planning of movements to avoid the impending pain. On the other hand, the brains of the male participants showed that fear arose because they were expecting to experience pain.

During the pain tests, the responses were reversed: the women’s brain activity related more to processing emotion and the feeling of the pain, whereas the men’s brain activity was dominated by pain avoidance.

Qasim Aziz, who works at the Wingate Institute for Neurogastroenterology at Queen Mary University of London, where the tests were conducted, said: “The fact that during pain our female subjects showed more activation of the emotion-processing areas in the brain could suggest a mechanism whereby females may attribute more emotional importance to painful stimuli which may influence how they perceive, report and respond to pain in comparison to males.”

The findings from the scans were released at the British Society of Gastroenterology’s annual meeting in Birmingham.

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