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Girls' and Boys' Differing Response to Pain Starts Early in Their Lives

Lynne Lamberg
JAMA. 1998;280(12):1035-1036. doi:10.1001/jama.280.12.1035.
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IN JEANS and T-shirts, preteen girls and boys can look pretty much alike. But when they hurt, it's easy to tell them apart, according to specialists in childhood pain who spoke at a National Institutes of Health–sponsored conference on gender and pain in Bethesda, Md, in April—among the first on this topic.

Sex, along with age, cognitive level, and family and cultural styles, and in conjunction with the variety of pains children experience over time, all influence how children—like adults—express pain, behave when they have pain, and perhaps even how they perceive pain, according to Patricia McGrath, PhD, who is professor of paediatrics and director of the Paediatric Pain Program, Child Health Research Institute, at the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario.

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This 7-year-old, who has leukemia, is intensely absorbed in pricking her own finger. She has chosen the finger and will smear the blood on a slide herself. Giving the child control of the frequently required procedure markedly diminished her pain. (Photo credit: Child Health Research Institute, University of Western Ontario)

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The drawing on the left by an 11-year-old boy depicts his pain from migraine headaches. He said, "It feels like I'm in a marching band and my head is the drum." A young girl with migraine headaches illustrated, at right, the hammering on her head and fiery feeling, which she attributed to "a brazen little devil." (Photo credit: Child Health Research Institute, University of Western Ontario)

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