Pain perception to the cold pressor test during the menstrual cycle in relation to estrogen levels and a comparison with men

Abstract

Animal and human research has shown that pain sensitivity changes during the menstrual cycle. This has sometimes been ascribed to hormonal variations. The aim of the present study was to examine how perception of pain, induced by the cold pressor test to the dominant hand, was related to gender and phases of the menstrual cycle. A repeated-meausres design was used, where twenty-two female students participated at two different phases of the menstrual cycle (days 2–4 and days 20–24). A control group of nineteen male students participated on two occasions, separated by a three week period. The cycle phase during which each woman began her participation was randomized. Pain was induced using the cold pressor test. Pain threshold was determined as the duration of time between when the subject first reported pain and exposure to the painful stimulus. Pain tolerance was determined as the duration of time until the subject withdraw her/his hand from the test water because the pain was too intensive. The results showed that men tolerated significantly greater pain than women. Women’s pain threshold was significantly higher during the second phase of the menstrual cycle. Systolic pressure was higher in men than women, increasing more in men in response to cold pressor testing than women. Further research, including measurments of plasma hormone levels during the menstrual cycle, is needed to clarify the role played by estrogens in pain perception.

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Correspondence to Birgitta Hellström.

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Hellström, B., Lundberg, U. Pain perception to the cold pressor test during the menstrual cycle in relation to estrogen levels and a comparison with men. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science 35, 132–141 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02688772

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Key words

  • cold pressor pain
  • gender
  • menstrual cycle
  • estrogen