Video: Men, women and pain

By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/9/2006 9:12:47 PM ET 2006-10-10T01:12:47

When exposed to the same source of pain, do men and women feel it differently?

Researchers are asking that question with volunteers undergoing dental surgery like Shawn Homem.

"I'm sure it's going to be painful, but I'll be all right," Homem says.

Whereas Katorina Maksong says she's "nervous and afraid, definitely."

Dr. John Levine of the University of California who heads the research says men more often try to deny the pain.

"Men may have actually evolved a difference that allows them to be not so affected by an injury," Levine says.

Here's how the experiment works: The volunteers who were going to have wisdom teeth extracted anyway, get the usual anesthesia for the surgery.

As the anesthesia wears off, they rate their pain by marking on a scale where zero is no pain and 100 is the worst pain imaginable.

If the pain is bad enough they get more pain killers.

Among the findings of the experiments so far, some pain medications consistently lessen pain in women but can actually make it worse in men. Clear proof to the researchers that the sexes have different brain wiring for pain.

"There are marked differences between males and females in terms of the circuits that are important for processing brain signals and for producing analgesia," Levine says.

The hope is that by understanding those circuits the scientists can learn how to better tailor pain relief for men and women.

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