Healthy Living

Fibromyalgia and How It Affects Women

Fibromyalgia and How it Affects Women

Fibromyalgia is a commonly misunderstood and misdiagnosed condition. The cause of pain and other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia are unknown. To further complicate this complex set of symptoms is the fact that women account for 90 percent of fibromyalgia cases. Although no research has pinpointed the reason for this gender inequity, hormones, immunological differences, and genetics are possible culprits. What is known is that being female is a risk factor for developing fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a type of disorder that does not get easily cured. Even after doing a number of studies and research on the disorder, there is no exact cause or treatment found for it. Mostly, it is considered as the state of mind of a person that requires bringing changes, which could slowly help in completely preventing the disease. The treatment is mainly focused on relieving the symptoms and changing one's lifestyle.

According to a recent survey, more than 5 million people across the globe are suffering from fibromyalgia. Most people who are suffering from the condition are women.

Risk Factors for Fibromyalgia

  • A family history of fibromyalgia or rheumatic conditions
  • Recurrent injuries to the same body part
  • Experiencing a traumatic event, such as a motor vehicle accident
  • History of anxiety and/or sleep disorders

These risk factors do not necessarily mean that you will develop fibromyalgia but indicate the likelihood or chance that you may develop the condition. If you are concerned about any of the mentioned risk factors, discuss with your healthcare provider.

Why does fibromyalgia predominantly affect women?

Fibromyalgia is considered as a misunderstood form of a rheumatoid disease. The disorder is classified into many other forms of rheumatic disorders, which are related to body pain such as arthritis.

The confusion is extended when it is found that fibromyalgia predominantly affects women than men. According to the medical reports, about 90 percent of people suffering from fibromyalgia are females.

Researchers also explained the prevalence of fibromyalgia in women. It is suggested that women are mostly diagnosed with fibromyalgia because of their noticeable tender points. Men also develop the disorder, but their symptoms are milder and fewer than women.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, it is estimated that about five million adults are dealing with fibromyalgia. Anyone can develop the disorder at any age. However, fibromyalgia mostly develops in middle-aged people, especially women. 

Learn more about how this painful disorder affects women, and what can be done about it.

Fibromyalgia Symptoms in Women

1) Pain - Widespread pain in the muscles and other soft tissues is the major symptom of fibromyalgia. This pain varies from person-to-person, but can often be described as a burning, stabbing, shooting, throbbing, or aching pain. This pain, along with muscle stiffness, is often worse upon waking. This overreaching and seemingly unending pain can be extremely detrimental to the individual’s quality of life.

2) Fatigue - Often described as “fibro fog”, this symptom includes extreme lethargy and tiredness accompanied by decreased cognitive and memory function. Individuals with fibromyalgia may find themselves lacking focus and concentration. They may feel that they are in a haze of confusion. This “fog” is often attributed to extensive pain, lack of sleep, and increased stress levels. It must be noted that the lack of restorative sleep, often experienced by those with fibromyalgia, can result in complete exhaustion and decreased immune system response.

3) Painful menstruation - A recent study found that women with fibromyalgia are more likely to have painful periods and PMS symptoms. Many women with fibromyalgia report an increased pain and sensitivity in the entire body right before or during their menstrual cycle. Some women also suffer from endometriosis, which is another chronic condition that can cause pelvic pain due to displaced uterine tissues.

4) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) - Women with fibromyalgia are also more likely to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The link between the two disorders has yet to be understood by researchers. However, there is a suspicion that both conditions are connected to the brain cells that are overly sensitive to stimuli. Irritable bowel syndrome, a common gastrointestinal disorder, is characterized by bouts of abdominal pain, digestive discomfort, diarrhea, and constipation. The overlapping symptom is the pain, which can be debilitating and disruptive to an individual’s life.

5) Sensitivity - The overstimulated brain cells that are believed to be the root cause of fibromyalgia often become noticeable when an individual shows extreme sensitivity to touch, sound, or light. Even movement can cause a sensory overload for individuals with fibromyalgia, which results in decreased mobility and changes in lifestyle. Women may also notice temperature sensitivities. Having a sweater or fan handy at all times in case of a major change in temperature levels could help.

Other Symptoms in Women

Although there is no relationship between specific hormones and fibromyalgia, medical researchers have found some connection. According to studies, it is found the women with fibromyalgia are also likely to have frequent symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea, commonly known as painful periods or menstrual cramps. Women in the study group are found to have extreme lower abdominal and lower back pain 1-2 days before their period begins.

The Common Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

The disorder affects both men and women equally. However, the symptoms of fibromyalgia may differ while experiencing the condition. The following are some of the common symptoms that can be seen among fibromyalgia patients:

  • Mild or severe headaches (either tension or migraine type)
  • Constant back pain
  • Painful or numb limbs
  • Getting morning stiffness
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Pain either facial or jaw pain
  • Difficulty in remembering
  • Sleeplessness

Treatments and Other Considerations

Fibromyalgia is not easy to diagnose due to the fact that the signs of the disorder cannot be visibly seen on an X-ray, blood test, or any other medical examination. Women who experience painful menstrual cycles can also be diagnosed with normal hormonal issues.

According to experts, people who experience widespread pain for three months or longer can be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The following are treatment options for people with fibromyalgia:

  • Use of pain relievers
  • Use of antidepressants to help regulate hormones
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Use of oral contraceptives for primary dysmenorrhea and PMS
  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture or chiropractic treatments
  • Taking psychotherapy or sleep therapy

It should be noted that fibromyalgia has no cure, and the only way to deal with the problem is to minimize the pain and to improve the quality of a person's life.

Fibromyalgia is considered to be a chronic condition, which could last a lifetime for both men and women. But according to the medical reports, the disorder is not progressive, which means it does not further damage the body. It is not similar to rheumatoid arthritis, which damages the joints completely. Also, fibromyalgia isn’t at all fatal.

The millions of women suffering from fibromyalgia have not necessarily reduced the pain. Researchers are still working to find out more about the disorder and the ways to prevent it. 

Living with Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia can cause a lifetime of pain. However, the disorder is not fatal. With proper medical care, good sleep, and adequate support, people with fibromyalgia may be able to manage their symptoms. With a proper treatment plan, the level of life disturbances caused by the symptoms can be decreased if not eliminated.

Treatment options range from medications and pain relievers to physical therapy and mental health counseling. As fibromyalgia is a condition of many symptoms, people will have to determine their level and means of treatment based on their own unique set of ailments.

Dietary strategies to prevent pain and make the body stronger:

  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Always drink plenty of water.
  • Always eat green vegetables than meat.
  • Control your sugar intake.
  • Do regular exercises, which can help strengthen your body.
  • Maintain a normal weight.

Food Diary

You may find that some of the foods you eat can make your symptoms worse, thereby making you feel weak. It is always a good idea to maintain a food diary so you can track the types of food you have consumed and be able to identify which foods can trigger your symptoms.