Women bear a disproportionate burden of persistent pain conditions when compared to men. To determine whether the hormonal environment affects the clinical experience of pain, as measured by the days per month of pelvic pain (DPelvicPM), period pain (DPeriodPM), headache (DHeadachePM) or the in vitro EC 50 for Interleukin-1β (IL-1β) release following TLR4 stimulation with Lipopolysaccharide from Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells (PBMCs). Findings were stratified according to use or non-use of the oral contraceptive pill.
Fifty-six women aged 16–35 years, with minimal or severe dysmenorrhea, and use or non-use of the OC, were enrolled. Blood was collected on two occasions in a single menstrual cycle: Days 1–2 and Days 7–10. Hormonal analysis for testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone, Androstenedione, 3α-Androstanediol, 3β-androstanediol, estradiol, estrone, 17α-hydroxyprogesterone, progesterone, cortisol and sex-hormone binding globulin was undertaken using ultra-sensitive Liquid Chromatography Mass–Spectrometry (LC-MS). PBMCs were exposed to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and the resulting Interleukin-1β output was determined.
Non-users of the OC showed a strongly inverse correlation between a reducing free androgen index (FAI) and increasing DPelvicPM (p=0.0032), DPeriodPM (p=0.013), DHeadachePM (p=0.041). Non-users of the OC showed a significant increase in DPelvicPM (p=0.049) on Days 7–10. Modestly significant associations were found between reduced androgens and potentiated LPS-induced IL-1β (lower EC 50).
This is the first study to investigate the relationship between the hormonal environment and activation of the immune system in young women with dysmenorrhoea-related pain conditions. Low androgen levels were consistently associated with increased pain. Translational implications for the findings are discussed.