Amid the opioid crisis in the USA, the scientists have conducted a study on the nature of pain in both genders, NewsMedical reports. The researchers from the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson in the Department of Pharmacology have identified a mechanism that explains why women and men percept pain in a different way.
In fact, women may be more vulnerable than men to develop pain in general, as well as to develop pain from opioids specifically. For the neurophysiologists, it always has been understood that women experience some types of pain that occur without injury – so-called “functional pain syndromes” – more than men.
Frank Porreca, PhD, a professor of Pharmacology, senior author on the study, offers to imagine a specific situation. A person takes a pill to control pain and, instead, the medication actually increases the feeling of pain. That may be the situation for patients who take opioids, but even more so for women, according to multiple research.
The cause is a neurohormone, prolactin, known largely for promoting lactation in expectant mothers in their final months of pregnancy and after childbirth.
The reasons for this never were clearly understood. A possible explanation the researchers explored was the differences in the cells and nerves that send pain signals to the brain in women and men.
The new pain-management therapies should be elaborated for women
The study showed that findings suggest new pain-management therapies targeting the prolactin system would greatly benefit women suffering from functional pain syndromes.
As statistics show, female-prevalent pain disorders in the USA include migraines. In addition, in fibromyalgia patients, as many as nine out of 10 are women; for irritable bowel syndrome, three out of four are women.
Dr Porreca points out many of these pain spells are intermittent and associated with triggering events. For instance, he and his colleagues found stress releases prolactin and unexpectedly promotes pain selectively in females.
“These triggering events can be wide-ranging. But stress is the most common trigger self-identified by patients. That’s where we started our studies – how does stress contribute to female-specific pain or female-selective pain?”
A researcher Edita Navratilova, an assistant professor of pharmacology, adds dopamine D-2 receptor agonist drugs that limit prolactin release, such as cabergoline, commonly are used for other diseases, and are not addictive.
In other words, cabergoline-based drugs, possibly in conjunction with other classes of medications, may help treat those pain conditions in women more effectively without the addictive properties of opioids.
“If we could just reduce the proportion of women who have migraines to the same amount as in men, that would be quite revolutionary,” Dr Navratilova explains.
Following publication of their findings, Dr Porreca has been contacted by companies interested in investigating the female pain deeper. That could help in elaborating the new pain-management therapies and curbing the unbelievable opioid crisis in the United States.