New research suggests that estrogens, a group of hormones that play an important role in the normal sexual and reproductive development in women, also affect pain sensitivity.
Investigators discovered the association between menopause symptoms and chronic pain from a study of more than 200,000 records from the Veterans Health Administration.
Experts note that women are more likely than men to report common chronic pain conditions such as back pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and osteoarthritis. Women with these conditions additionally report greater pain severity and pain-related disability than their male counterparts.
Although the causes of chronic pain risk are not well understood, prior research has discovered that the risk for common conditions that cause or exacerbate pain is highest in midlife women. This is a time when estrogen levels are fluctuating and women are entering peri-menopause or post-menopause.
Scientists are aware that common changes related to menopause and aging include weight gain and decreased physical activity. Both factors can contribute to the development of chronic pain as can impaired sleep and negative mood. Each condition is known to affect symptom sensitivity and pain tolerance.
In this latest large-scale study of women veterans, investigators hypothesized that even after accounting for age and other known risk factors, menopause symptoms would be associated with increased odds of diagnosed chronic pain and chronic pain morbidity.
Study findings showed that women with a higher menopause symptom burden may be the most vulnerable for chronic pain. More specifically, women with menopause symptoms had nearly twice the chance of having chronic pain and multiple chronic pain diagnoses.
Researchers discuss their findings in an article, “Menopause symptoms and chronic pain in a national sample of midlife women veterans,” published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
“Changing levels of hormones around menopause have complex interactions with pain modulation and pain sensitivity, which may be associated with vulnerability to either the development or exacerbation of pain conditions,” says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director.
“This study suggests that menopause symptom burden may also be related to chronic pain experience.”