Probable Gender Connection
Though the precise cause of fibromyalgia (FM) is unknown, research shows a probable correlation with hormones, explaining the prevalence in women. One recent study found an increased frequency of premenstrual syndrome and primary dysmenorrhea (painful periods) among FM patients. The researchers concluded that women who experience these severe syndromes along with high levels of depression are at risk of developing FM.
Men Might Be Under-Diagnosed
The gender bias 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 FM 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 Are More Symptomatic
The overall severe pain and functional symptoms of FM are similar for both women and men, including the subsequent anxiety, depression, and stress. However, clinical data shows women experience many more symptoms, such as fatigue, all-over body aches, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Moving Beyond Misperceptions of Women and Fibromyalgia
Only in the past 10 years has FM been accepted in the mainstream as a real condition. Because blood tests and other practical methods for detecting illness cannot diagnose FM, it was long considered a mental condition and not an actual disease. As any FM patient knows, it is far too real. Like migraine and other “hidden illnesses,” there are more unknowns than knowns about why these conditions persist and behave as they do. Diagnosis relies heavily on a patient’s perception and feedback. However, a distinct difference between patients with fibromyalgia and those without has been shown on MRI scans of patients’ brains.
There isn’t a known cure, but you can help fight FM.
Connect Your Healthcare Team
Begin with keeping your healthcare providers informed of every symptom, and make sure they all communicate with each other. Your primary physician, neurologist, rheumatologist, and pain management specialist should work in concert. It is more likely that a cure will be found as doctors learn about women and fibromyalgia.
Keep a Pain Diary
Track all of your symptoms and changes in response to medications and other therapies. With your holistic feedback, you are helping your medical team and the larger medical community find successful treatments that will benefit everyone.
Be an Advocate for Yourself and Others
Don’t allow old societal misperceptions to prevail when you encounter them. Educate others with documented literature on FM. Let your family and friends understand your plight. Additionally, share your personal accounts in support groups and with online support networks. This will further expand understanding of the disease.
Take Care of Yourself
Listen to your body’s warning signs. Exercise as you can, eat healthy foods, and rest as necessary. Healthy living, regardless of what condition you suffer, will only help you, not hinder.
Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself. Knowledge and communication are crucial in helping yourself and others find an improved quality of life. In turn, perhaps we will find a fibromyalgia cure.