Do women and men experience chronic pain differently? A new study suggests there may be sex differences when it comes to pain — one that may open doors for better treatment.
The nervous system’s dials for communicating chronic pain to the body work differently in male and female mice, according to a study published in Nature Neuroscience. If this difference is also found in humans, it could lead to chronic pain treatments that are better tailored to the patient. But the most immediate impact might be in basic research — the earliest stages of work — since right now, the mice being used are almost exclusively male.
Chronic pain affects more than 100 million people in the U.S., which is more than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. And many pain conditions occur more often in women than in men, according to the FDA. That’s why figuring out how male and female mice deal with pain — and whether they do so differently than humans — is so important. After all, most medical research — including pain research — starts with mice.
For this study, the researchers used mice that were suffering from a hypersensitivity to pain. The scientists gave them drugs that target the microglial cells in the spinal cord, in the hopes that this would prevent the animals from feeling pain. But only male mice responded to the drugs — the female mice still had an increased sensitivity to pain.
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