Chronic pain in women is more complex and harder to treat than chronic pain in men, says a leading Australian neuroscientist.

This means gender-specific drugs and treatment methods are needed, says Dr Mark Hutchinson from the school of medical sciences at the University of Adelaide.

Although his work is on laboratory rodents at this stage, he says: "These studies certainly show women's experience of pain is more severe.

"There are fundamental differences in the experience," says Dr Hutchinson, who will present his finding at a Faculty of Pain Medicine (FPM) meeting in Sydney on Friday.


The focus of his work is to understand why acute pain turns to longer-term pain in some people and why this is more prevalent in women than in men.

His laboratory work has established for the first time that the brain's immune cells, known as glial cells, contribute to differences in pain between the sexes.

He says understanding female chronic pain is profoundly important to treatment methods.

Already, some drugs for inflammatory bowel disease work only on women.

"We are hoping our research will lead to the development of more sex-targeted drugs."