Sex-related hormonal influences on pain and analgesic responses

Academic Article


  • Considerable evidence indicates sex-related differences in pain responses and in the effectiveness of various analgesic agents. Specifically, females are at greater risk for experiencing many forms of clinical pain and are more sensitive to experimentally induced pain relative to males. Regarding analgesic responses, nonhuman animal studies indicate greater opioid analgesia for males, while a limited human literature suggests the opposite. Though the mechanisms underlying these effects remain unclear, the influence of gonadal hormones on nociceptive processing represents one plausible pathway whereby such sex differences could emerge. The present article reviews the complex literature concerning sex steroid effects on pain responses and analgesia. First, nonhuman animal research related to hormonal effects on nociceptive sensitivity and analgesic responses is presented. Next, human studies regarding gonadal hormonal influences on experimental pain responses are reviewed. Several potential mechanisms underlying hormonal effects on nociceptive processing are discussed, including hormonal effects to both peripheral and central nervous system pathways involved in pain transmission. Finally, based on these findings we draw several conclusions and make specific recommendations that will guide future research as it attempts to elucidate the magnitude and importance of sex-related hormonal effects on the experience of pain. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Fillingim RB; Ness TJ
  • Start Page

  • 485
  • End Page

  • 501
  • Volume

  • 24
  • Issue

  • 4