Fibromyalgia affects about 4 million adults in the United States, which is about 2% of the adult population. While the cause of fibromyalgia is not known, but it can be effectively treated and managed. There are quite a number of risk factors for the condition, including simply being a woman. Fibromyalgia is prevalent in women; it’s actually twice as likely for women to have the condition than men.
Let’s take a look at some of other risk factors, the current research around the link between sex and fibromyalgia, and what steps women can take to fight both the pain and the misconceptions about the long misunderstood condition.
Common risk factors
Since fibromyalgia is prevalent in women, being female is a risk factor.
Other risk factors that increase your chances of developing fibromyalgia include:
The link between sex and fibromyalgia
Though the precise cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, research shows a probable correlation with hormones, which explains why fibromyalgia is prevalent in women. One recent study found an increased frequency of premenstrual syndrome and primary dysmenorrhea (painful periods) among fibromyalgia patients. Researchers concluded that women who experience these severe syndromes along with high levels of depression are at risk of developing fibromyalgia.
Are men under-diagnosed?
The link between sex and fibromyalgia seems clear, but another study in Denmark suggests men might be under-diagnosed. Since men lack high amounts of estrogen, which is known to activate pain receptors, the tender points used to perform pressure tests in diagnosing fibromyalgia are likely milder and easily overlooked. Tender points hurt when pressed on and appear on 18 locations around the body, including the head, neck, upper back, upper chest, elbows, hips and knees.
Women experience more symptoms
The overall severe pain and functional symptoms of fibromyalgia are similar for both women and men, including the subsequent anxiety, depression, and stress. However, clinical data further highlights the struggles of women facing the condition: women experience many more symptoms, such as fatigue, all-over body aches and irritable bowel syndrome.
Taking steps to move beyond the misconceptions
Only in recent medical history has fibromyalgia been accepted in the mainstream as a real condition. The American Pain Society developed the first guidelines for treating fibromyalgia pain in 2005. Because blood tests and other practical methods for detecting illness cannot diagnose fibromyalgia, it was long considered a mental condition and not a legitimate disease. One distinct difference between patients with fibromyalgia and those without has been shown on MRI scans of patients’ brains.
As any fibromyalgia patient knows, the condition is far too real. Like migraines and other hidden illnesses, there are more unknowns than knowns about why these conditions persist and behave as they do.
And as women know, there are a myriad of health concerns ignored by the healthcare system until we prove we’re as sick as male patients. Bernandine Healy, M.D. coined the term Yentl syndrome in 2001 to describe the gender inequality, the under-diagnosis and the under-treatment of women throughout the healthcare system. Fibromyalgia diagnosis relies heavily on a patient’s perception and feedback, but also on healthcare providers removing their blinders and accepting the reality of hidden illnesses.