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Question and Answer: Do Redheads Really Have More Pain?

The Truth About Natural Red Hair and Pain Medication

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Updated June 13, 2014

redhead pain, red head pain, red hair pain,

Julianne Moore, a Natural Redhead

Photo: © Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Question: I am having surgery next month and my one friend (a nurse) says redheads require more pain medication. My other friend (also a nurse) says that is just an urban legend passed from nurse to nurse and that red hair means nothing. Who is right?

Answer:

I hate to say it, but they are both right.

The "redheads require more pain medication" myth was, for decades, a kind of medical tale that was passed down from seasoned nurses to new nurses. I remember my nursing preceptor saying, “Oh, our patient is a natural redhead, be prepared to give them pain medication more often or in higher doses.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, but more experienced nurses swore that it was true.

After decades of this “knowledge” being passed down from seasoned doctors and nurses to newer ones, a small study was done in 2004 to see if there was any truth to the idea. What the study revealed was this: Redheads in the study required more pain medication than the brunettes studied.

The study was a small one, but the authors stated that there was a “significantly higher” requirement for pain medication in the redheads. Now keep in mind that this study pertains to true redheads, not brunettes with auburn highlights, but the natural “gingers” of the world. It states not that redheads have more pain, but that more pain medication is required to control the pain they do have.

So what does this mean for you, as a redhead? It means that your doctors and nurses will need to be diligent about controlling your pain, just as they should be with all of their patients. There is a “pain scale” that is commonly used to identify and rate pain from 1 to 10, with 1 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever had in your life. Be honest about your pain and about your pain level after the medication takes effect. This will help your nurses and doctors determine the right dose of pain medication for you. In addition, don’t try to “tough it out” without pain medication unnecessarily and you should be fine!

Sources:

Anesthetic Requirement Is Increased In Redheads. The Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists http://journals.lww.com/anesthesiology/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2004&issue=08000&article=00006&type=abstract

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