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Eur J Pain. 2004 Oct;8(5):435-50.

Epidemiology, co-morbidity, and impact on health-related quality of life of self-reported headache and musculoskeletal pain--a gender perspective.

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  • 1Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Department of Pharmacy, Uppsala University, BMC, Box 580, Uppsala S-751 23, Sweden.



Headache and musculo-skeletal pain are major public health problems. Substantial proportions of the general population report that they experience pain problems that affect their work, daily living and social life. Epidemiological studies have consistently shown that the prevalence of most pain conditions is higher in women than in men.


Cross-sectional survey in the county of Uppland, Sweden, 1995. Five thousand four hundred and four completed the questionnaire (response rate=68%). In these analyses for persons aged 20-64 years 4506 were included.


Back pain (22.7%) and shoulder pain (21.0%) were the most commonly reported medical problems in the population with pain in arms/legs (15.7%) in fifth and headache (12.5%) in eight place. Major gender differences were found. The prevalence of pain conditions, especially headache, was higher among women. Women reported more severe pain. Co-morbidity between pain conditions and psychiatric and somatic problems was higher among women. Health-related quality of life (SF-36) differed by gender and type of pain condition. The physical dimensions of HRQoL were more affected by headache among men; psychological dimensions were more affected among women. Among both men and women, pain conditions were associated with poorer socioeconomic conditions and life-style factors but there were gender differences. Education and unemployment were important only among men while economical difficulties, half-time work and being married were associated with pain among women. Obesity, early disability retirement, long time sick-leave and lack of exercise were associated with pain conditions generally. Factors associated with pain conditions were unevenly distributed between genders.


There are major differences between men and women in the prevalence and severity of self-reported pain in the population. Biological factors may explain some of the differences but the main explanation is presumably gender disparities in work, economy, daily living, social life and expectations between women and men. Although improved working conditions are of importance, deeper societal changes are needed to reduce the inequities in pain experiences between women and men.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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