Sugar and Spice? Women Better at Surviving Serious Injury

There's no one more resilient than your mother or wife, some might say — and now science is backing up that claim.

Women are 14 percent more likely to survive a traumatic injury than men, according to a new study.

"I know some people may think women are the fairer sex, but as far as trauma goes, and their ability and tenacity to survive, women may even have a better evolution than men," said study researcher Dr. Adil H. Haider, an assistant professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Women have to take care of kids, survive childbirth, do things that men aren't expected or built to do."

The increased ability to survive trauma may lie in sex hormones, Haider said.

"In some events, female sex hormones kind of enhance the immune system," he said.

That's possibly why women are also more susceptible to diseases such as lupus, which result from an overactive immune system, he said.

It's unclear whether female sex hormones, like estrogen, improve the odds of survival from serious injury, or whether it's women's low levels of the male sex hormone testosterone that serves as a protector, Haider told MyHealthNewsDaily.

The finding, detailed in the September issue of the Journal of Trauma, was not widely reported. The researchers recently issued a news release on their work.

A lesson in survival

Haider and his colleagues gathered data on the survival rates of 48,394 people who had suffered a severe traumatic injury, and put them in three groups based on their age — those under 12 or over 65 have lower hormone levels, in general, than those between ages 13 and 64.

Only those whose blood pressure was dangerously low as a result of a serious injury — which physicians consider a true sign of traumatic shock — were included in the study.

Among people ages 12 and under, 29 percent of males died and 24 percent of females died. For people ages 13 to 64, 34 percent of males died and 30 percent of females died, and for those ages 65 and older, 36 percent of males died and 31 percent of females died.

After taking into account factors such as age, severity of injury, type of injury and manner of injury, the women's rate of survival was 14 percent higher than the men's, Haider said.

Other unknown factors could have had an effect, he said, but sex hormones were probably the most substantial factor determining the survival rates.

It's important to note the finding only applies to a specific group of the population — people who've suffered traumatic injuries, Haider said.

Women and pain

Other work has shown sex doesn't affect only survival rates — in fact, women seem to suffer more than men when it comes to pain.

A 2005 study in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found women feel more pain than men because they have more nerve receptors — 34 nerve fibers per square centimeter of skin on their faces, compared with men's 17.

And pain can follow women into the bedroom. Fifteen percent of women experience pain during sex, likely because these women associate pain and sex because of a condition called dyspareunia, according to a 2009 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Next, Haider said he wants to measure sex hormone levels in people who have serious injury, to see if variations in individuals' levels affect survival.

Amanda Chan
Amanda Chan was a staff writer for Live Science Health. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.