November 13, 2019

Reduced estrogen levels may worsen pain associated with fibromyalgia

Although men and women can be equal in many things, there are just some areas where the two sexes differ radically. One of those areas is in the development and pain associated with chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia. And, it is not because women have a lower threshold for pain, either. A new study has found that fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and interstitial cystitis symptoms all worsen with the onset of menstruation.

The researchers theorized that because migraines are an autonomic disorder like fibromyalgia and they seem to worsen and occur more frequently around the time of menstruation, that perhaps fibromyalgia and other autonomic disorders would also have this variation. According to WebMD, all of these disorders stem from the autonomic nervous system, which is the part of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that controls various bodily functions. The researchers decided to evaluate a questionnaire that was completed by seventy-seven women diagnosed with fibromyalgia and various numbers of women who suffered from other conditions. The women were supposed to report on their symptoms throughout the month. At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that eighteen percent of the fibromyalgia sufferers reported an increase in severity and frequency of their symptoms just before and during their periods.

In an effort to determine an explanation for this rise in pain, the researchers theorize that it must have something to do with fluctuating hormone levels. WebMD reports that estrogen prevents pain; however, it is at very low levels right before and during a woman’s menstruation. This belief is shored up by the report that fifteen percent of women had increased pain at the time of menopause when estrogen is also very low.

The study was not without its problems, however. Many women reported no change in their symptoms at all around their period and other women reported that the fibromyalgia pain was the worst during their first period. These inconsistencies could not be explained by the researchers and will likely lead to additional studies on the topic of hormone fluctuations impacting pain.

You can also conduct your own self study to determine if your fibromyalgia pain worsens before and during your period. Keep a journal, detailing your symptoms, and what other events are occurring in your life. Try to determine if your period impacts your symptoms and if so, you may discuss various options with your doctor, including taking an estrogen supplement or the birth control pill, both of which increase estrogen production.

2 separate studies show that women suffering from fibromyalgia are not seeking appropriate treatment

We have all heard the old adage that men are from mars and women are from Venus.  It is true that men and women may approach some things very differently.  One of the areas that these gender differences exist in is in how men and women deal with pain associated with a chronic condition.  I was amazed this week when I came across two wholly unrelated articles discussing how women, who are more likely to suffer from a painful condition such as fibromyalgia, are also much more likely to dismiss their pain and not seek a proper diagnosis or treatment.  There were a variety of reasons as to why they did not seek medical advice about their pain; however, one common thread seemed to be that they felt they would not be taken seriously by a professional and that they could manage it on their own.  It seems that it is important for women to recognize that pain, especially chronic pain like that associated with fibromyalgia, is a medical condition, not simply a state of mind.

One of the articles, from the Black Women’s Health Alliance and detailed on PRNewswire, discussed a study conducted in Pennsylvania which found that many of the state’s women suffered from chronic pain but did not seek help for it.  Specifically, the study found that two-thirds of Pennsylvania women suffer from chronic pain, and over half of them do not seek treatment for their pain, even when it is so severe that they have trouble completely daily tasks or working.  When asked why they would not get treated, a majority of the women stated it was because they felt that insurance companies would not cover treatment for pain, unlike more traditional conditions, such as heart disease.  Additionally, the women felt that the pain was not something to worry about and that it could be handled privately.

The other article, from Pain Medicine News, discussed how twice as many women as men feel that they are not being taken seriously when they complain about their pain.  This perceived lack of sympathy often causes these women to refrain from seeking medical treatment even though their condition often impairs their daily activities and work environment/ability to work.  What is even more troubling is that fibromyalgia impacts seven times more women than men, so not only are more women not seeking help for their pain, but more women are suffering from a serious chronic condition and are not seeking help!  Fortunately, some researchers, medical writers, and health professionals have launched a website, www.healthywomen.org , to address these issues and educate women on fibromyalgia and pain management.  It provides references for doctors who specialize in treating fibromyalgia and how women can fully engage in their daily lives.

Knowing that this painful condition we call fibromyalgia is real and not something to be taken lightly is the first step to getting the necessary treatment.  Once you know what you are dealing with, you can then take the necessary steps to get the right therapy for you, file for social security disability benefits if you can no longer work due to your condition, and generally manage your life better.  Although men and women are very different, this type of chronic pain can impact us all the same.  It is important to seek help and educate yourself so that you can live the healthiest life possible.