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Women report feeling more pain than men, huge EMR analysis shows

Although electronic medical records, or EMRs, are used only by about one percent of hospitals in the U.S. today, they are routinely produced and updated during patient visits to two Stanford-affiliated hospitals. Stanford's nurses have been rigorously trained in the importance of reporting these patients' pain - typically in the form of scores on a scale of 0 to 10 (where "0" means "none at all" and "10" means "the most imaginable") - on those EMRs.

Henry Lowe, MD, director of Stanford's Center for Clinical Informatics, and his colleagues have found a way to aggregate all of this clinical data into a searchable database that researchers can use, if they get approval.

Using de-identified patient data from EMRs, Stanford information-systems maven Atul Butte, MD, PhD, retrieved some 160,000 pain reports from over 72,000 patients, corrected for various confounders, crunched the numbers, and came up with an astonishing result: Across the board, for virtually any given disease men and women both get, women report higher pain scores than men do.

Not only is this difference statistically significant, it's clinically significant: "In many cases, the reported difference approached a full point on the 1-to-10 scale," Butte told me. "How big is that? A pain-score improvement of one point is what clinical researchers view as indicating that a pain medication is working."

Butte, et al.'s results (described in this release) were just published in The Journal of Pain.

Okay, let's get this out: Do women actually feel more pain than men, or do they just (to say it tactfully) report it more readily? That question, which husbands and wives have been arguing about for at least a few millennia, is unanswerable on the basis of this study.

Butte and his colleagues, however, are going to try to get to the bottom of it. They intend to rifle through those EMRs again to see if they can find any objectively measurable factor that correlates highly with reported pain.

Previously: A call to fight chronic-pain epidemic, How light exercise can help prevent arthritis from getting worse and Study shows poor sleep may increase risk of fibromyalgia among women
Photo by University of Salford

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