Women veterans are more likely than men to experience military sexual trauma (MST) which often results in symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Women are also more likely to experience pain. Women with severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS, symptoms right before menstruation that often include anxiety and depression) are more sensitive to pain than those without PMS. Pain and PTSD together cause worse PMS symptoms and distress than either by itself and may be worse when women have a history of sexual abuse.
A recent study of 83 women Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts recruited primarily through mental health clinics found that nearly three fourths of these women had both MST and significant pain. Women with MST experienced worse pain and more pain-related difficulties when engaging in activities of daily living. When coupled with PMS, pain resulted in even more interference with activity.
The study was the work of Drs. Melissa Mercedes Buttner and Niloofar Afari at the VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health (CESAMH) in San Diego. This research suggests that thorough evaluation of trauma in women with pain, as well as treatment of mood fluctuations in PMS, could be beneficial. In addition, research to better understand the interaction of pain, especially related to PMS, and mental health issues may help us develop ways to better treat these problems. For more information, contact Dr. Niloofar Afari at firstname.lastname@example.org.