Healthy Living

Boys vs. Girls: Why Does Fibromyalgia Affect Women More Than Men?

Why are women more likely to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia? Here are a few theories.

Boys vs. Girls: Why Does Fibromyalgia Affect Women More Than Men?

Women are 90 percent more likely to have fibromyalgia than men, according to statistics. However, some men have fibromyalgia, but their symptoms present differently, and discomfort for men presents differently as well.

"While women typically experience tenderness or pain in at least 11 of 18 tender points, men may have only six places in the body that are tender, and they aren't as painful as those in women patients," Tarvez Tucker, M.D., a fibromyalgia expert and associate professor of neurology, says.

Women feel pain more acutely than men, and they seek diagnosis and treatment for their pain. Women tend to have better coping skills.  Women don’t allow pain to control their lives. Men suffer in silence but are not good at managing emotions when in pain.

Estrogen plays a part in fibromyalgia pain

Fibromyalgia may be an estrogen issue. Do female hormones play a role in the severity and higher incidence of fibromyalgia? A larger percent of women complain that their fibromyalgia pain is most severe during and before their periods. Hormone fluctuations might also be a cause, and estrogen decreases just before a women’s period and rises after their cycle is over.

Dr. Tucker believes that estrogen is a protective element against pain. Estrogen is high during pregnancy to protect women against the pain of childbirth, but when women are on their periods, estrogen levels are lowered, which worsens fibromyalgia symptoms.

Migraine headaches come with light sensitivity, difficulty sleeping, mood issues, nausea, and difficulty concentrating. Lower estrogen leads experts to believe that pain is related to women’s cycles.

Chronic pain affects women more frequently than men, and this means a higher susceptibility to chronic pain conditions. The National Institute of Health states that fibromyalgia, chronic tension headaches, migraines, temporomandibular disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, and interstitial cystitis are complaints that women have more than men. Are these related to hormonal changes?

Different theories state that men release endorphins or a natural substance in the brain that activates pain-killing receptors. Women’s pain thresholds are lower than men, and this may be related to endorphin and hormonal differences.

Testosterone’s Role

Men have small amounts of estrogen, but these amounts don’t rise and lower throughout the month. Dr. Tuck stated that it might be the changes in estrogen levels that trigger a higher sensitivity to pain. Perhaps a man’s lower amounts of estrogen prevent these pain signals.

The male hormone testosterone may be a preventive against pain. Patrick Wood, M.D., a fibromyalgia researcher, states, "Clinical experience has shown that men with [the] highest levels of testosterone are the least prone to fibromyalgia."   

Women have testosterone, too, but only in small amounts. There is not  enough testosterone to protect women against pain. Researchers summarize that testosterone protects men from fibromyalgia pain, the migraines associated with fibromyalgia, and other pain conditions common in women.

Is fibromyalgia higher in men than theorized?

Medical experts thank that men may do not report fibromyalgia because fibromyalgia is usually considered a woman’s disease. Since many physicians believe that fibromyalgia is a female problem, so they do not diagnosis this syndrome in men. Men do not visit the doctor for pain as often as women.

Dr. Tucker says, "Many men believe that going to a doctor for vague, hurt-all-over pain is being a little bit of a wimp." Men don’t want to seem like whiners and less manly, so they don’t seek treatment for pain.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain along with sleep disorders, fatigue, mood changes, memory, and cognitive disturbances. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia is unbearable due to pain sensations and messages affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.

Symptoms often begin after surgery, infection, physical trauma, or significant psychological stress. There are cases when signs accumulate over time, and there is no activating event.

Pain is the definitive symptom of fibromyalgia, but it presents in different ways, and in various parts of the body. You may have a constant stabbing pain throughout your entire body or a duller but continuous aching.

Fibromyalgia causes hyperesthesia or hyperalgesia. Hyperesthesia means that even the clothes you wear bring on pain. Hyperalgesia defined indicates that even stubbing a toe causes excruciating pain that lasts for days.

You may feel sensitivity toward your environment. There is extra sensitivity to smells like cigarette smoke, chemical-based cleaning products or even perfumes. Sounds can be extremely loud and cause headaches. Lights may seem unbearable.

Fibromyalgia causes muscle and joint stiffness that may be worse first thing in the morning. If you have fibromyalgia, you do not experience relief after you move. Movement often worsens the joint and muscle pain and stiffness.

Minor muscle spasms are common, but fibromyalgia patients often experience extreme contractions that have no medical reasons. Usual intense seizures occur at night and often disrupt sleep. Even if you try to rest and avoid straining, muscles still spasm.

Exhaustion can be so debilitating that it affects your lifestyle. There may be two causes. One is fibromyalgia syndrome drains you of your energy and two is sleep disturbances that make it impossible for you to get regenerating sleep.

What can patients do for pain relief? 

There are no cures for migraines, fibromyalgia and other syndromes that affect women more than men. Some pain relievers can help both men and women when touched by the severe pain and discomfort of fibromyalgia

Over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen, acetaminophen or acetaminophen with caffeine can help. However, if OTC pain medications don’t work, Interventional Pain Management can offer hope and options. For migraines, intervention pain management might mean trigger point therapy or an occipital nerve block. Occipital nerve blocks are long-acting injections of anesthetic or steroids into the area around nerves on the back of the head just above the neck.

If you need longer-lasting remedies for more severe pain, speak with your doctor to discover different pain relief options. Arizona offers Novocur, one of the only accredited pain management systems, to provide customized treatment plans managed by pain doctors. Novocur offers a personal level of care that helps bring relief from the pain associated with fibromyalgia.

However, not everyone with fibromyalgia can travel to Arizona for pain relief. Talk with your doctor to find other options.