Today’s medicine and technology have made diagnosing, treating, and managing medical conditions easier than ever. Tools like cardiac catheterization can help diagnose and treat heart disease along with several other methods for treating other conditions. But when it comes to pain, everyone manages it differently. Vacations and relaxing can actually help with some heart issues. In fact, according to one study, men at risk for heart disease who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were 30% more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least a week off each year.
And a new study has found that males are actually more sensitive when it comes to remembering and managing pain.
Chronic pain, which impacts more than 1.5 billion people around the world, lasts longer than 12 weeks and can leave a lasting impression in the problem area. The study, run by colleagues from McGill and University of Toronto Mississauga, looked at how participants reacted to a painful stimulus in a location where chronic pain was previously experienced.
The study used both men and women participants as well as mice of both sexes. During the study, low levels of pain, which we provided by heat, were delivered to the subjects. The human subjects were then asked to rate their pain while the mice’s levels of pain were determined by how quickly the move away from the heat.
After this portion of the experiment, the subjects were exposed to more intense pain by exercising for 20 minutes while wearing a blood pressure cuff. The mice were given injections of vinegar, which resulted in a 30-minute stomach ache.
The subjects returned the next day and were exposed to the low levels of heat to both a new area on their body and the location where they had experienced pain the day before.
Both the male humans and mice rated the pain higher when the heat was applied to the same location they had experienced pain before; this reaction was not seen in the females. This showed that males were more likely to remember earlier painful experiences more clearly than females.
The researchers even gave the mice a memory-blocking drug and did the experiment again. The mice showed no sign of remembering the previous pain, which shows the reactions the males experienced were due to memories of increased pain.
“Pain memory is a subject of increasing interest. We’ve come up with a super simple way to study it in both people and mice. Even better, the results suggest that these findings translate from mice to people.” explained senior author of the study, Jeffrey Mogil, the E.P. Taylor Professor of Pain Studies in McGill’s Department of Psychology and Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain.
These findings show the importance of including both sexes when studying pain, as males and females show different experiences of pain.
And with about 59% of those with chronic pain reporting an impact on their enjoyment of life, this research shows that there may be better ways to treat chronic pain. When treating pain conditions, focusing on the memory of pain could be more effective than focusing on the pain itself.