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What Do Female Hormones Have to Do with Pain & Pain Medications?

We’ve known for a long time that women and men experience pain differently and that women experience certain pain conditions like migraine disease more frequently than men. We also know some kinds of pain medication work better for women than for men.

But the whys and hows of these differences have until now been a complete mystery. Recently researchers at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center have been able to make some headway in answering these important questions.

One of the big revelations of their research is that estrogen levels play a role in the way some opioid receptors react to opioid pain medications. Opioid receptors are molecules found primarily in the brain, spinal cord and digestive tract that receive messages from chemicals with pain killing properties called opioids. The researchers found a difference in the amount of these receptors between men and women, indicating that estrogen and progesterone are essential for the formation of this specific type of opioid receptor. They also observed differences among women depending on where they are in their menstrual cycles. When women were at the peak of their estrogen and progesterone levels, the level of opioid receptors in their spinal cords were four times higher.

Researchers believe this information about the connection between female hormones and certain opioid receptors could explain why some drugs used to treat pain (such as pentazocine, nalbuphine and butorphanol) are more effective for women than men. They also suggest doctors take the stage of their patients’ menstrual cycles into account when selecting pain medications for them because medications that may be very effective during one part of their cycles may be less so during other phases.

Interestingly, butorphanol is mostly prescribed for treatment of the pain-related aspects of migraine and childbirth. Perhaps this is because medicine has already made the realization it is less effective for pain among men even without the knowledge we now have from this new research.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

SUNY Downstate Researchers Identify Possible New Targets for Treating Pain in Women | Spinal Synthesis of Estrogen and Concomitant Signaling by Membrane Estrogen Receptors Regulate Spinal κ- and μ-Opioid Receptor Heterodimerization and Female-Specific Spinal Morphine Antinociception

Comments

  • Joan Lewter
    8 years ago

    I BELIEVE THAT IF A DOCTOR HAS NEVER HAD A MIGRAINE THEY DO NOT KNOW HOW YOU ARE FEELING. THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND THAT YOUR HEAD HURTS SO BAD SOMETIMES YOU JUST WANT TO BANG IT AGAINST THE WALL. YOU KNOW THAT WILL NOT HELP BUT THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO. SOME NIGHTS YOU ARE UP PACING THE FLOOR WAITING ON YOUR PAIN MEDICINE TO WORK. SOMETIMES THEY MAKE YOU SO SICK AT YOUR STOMACH YOU JUST WISH YOU COULD THROW UP. SO IF YOU HAVE MIGRAINES YOU KNOW ALL OF THIS STUFF. SOMETIMES YOU JUST WANT TO CRAWL UP IN A BALL AND CRY BECAUSE YOU HURT SO BAD. IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE THAT HAS MIGRAINES PRAY FOR THEM BECAUSE THEY ALWAYS NEED IT.

  • Annette Kyle Herold
    8 years ago

    ya ,they true….i have them

  • Kathy Hamby
    8 years ago

    I agree totally – I experience them quite often. I feel for anyone that does have them.

  • Beverly Prettyhotandthick White
    8 years ago

    I know, I have them

  • Louise M. Houle
    8 years ago

    I occasionally take Ultram 50 mg (Tramadol) when a combination of Amerge & Ketoprofen do not control my migraine pain. But I find it is not very effective for me. Could it be the dosage? Or am I just someone who does not respond to that class of meds? Could there be reasons why?

  • Sandy McCarthy Brooks
    8 years ago

    Hummmm….Very interesting!

  • Aisha Samuel
    8 years ago

    Interesting…

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