If you have ever done any research on fibromyalgia, you know how often it’s reported as being diagnosed in women more often than men. In fact, the government reports that 80-90% of fibro patients are women. But that seems to be changing. And not because it is suddenly “spreading” to men. Rather, one reason is because the criteria for diagnosing is expanding. Another reason is that more men seem to be seeking treatment. In Western cultures, men have long been discouraged from showing emotions that indicate some sort of “weakness.” Sadly, expressing pain and seeking treatment is often interpreted as that weakness, leading to the downfall of many men. For women, on the other hand, it is far more acceptable to express emotions and pain and to seek treatment for both. But when it comes to a condition like fibromyalgia, do women suffer more? Is the fibro experience different or the same for men and women? Is fibromyalgia worse for women?
Make no mistake: fibromyalgia does not discriminate when it comes to gender. It is an equal opportunity disease that turns your life upside down with reckless abandon. One of the key identifiers of fibromyalgia is chronic pain. And not just some ache that bothers you from time to time. No, we are talking about what is often intense pain that can shoot all throughout the body. Usually there is no explanation for it. Sure, different healthcare practitioners have their theories and you’ll find fibromyalgia categorized as neurological, psychological, nutritional, and so on. But the thing about fibro is that it amplifies pain. It seems that the condition causes the brain to process pain and other sensory information in an abnormal way. So how can that translate into differences in the experience of fibromyalgia for men and women?
Is fibromyalgia worse for women?
It’s Worse: PERIOD
Every human shares some basic experiences, whether it is done naturally or through medical aid. We all eat and sleep, for example. However, women have the very unique experience of menstruation. We assume that it’s normal to suffer through painful periods. But the reality is that they are probably far worse than they ought to be due to nutritional deficiencies, environmental factors, and the intense stress associated with our culture. Hormones actually cause cramps and muscle contractions similar to labor pains.
This is a good place to pause and think for a moment: cramps and contractions similar to labor pains? Granted, not every woman feels pain to that degree, but many of us experience very difficult periods. Now, recall how fibromyalgia amplifies pain. Put that into the context of what life is like for a fibromyalgia patient who also must deal with menstruation each month. Sometimes this can last for several days. Not to mention that some of us also have added pain and cramping during the ovulation process, which usually lasts a couple of days as well. Even if you’re having a decent month without a fibro flair, you still are living at least a third of the month with abnormally high levels of pain. And if you are experiencing the chronic pain symptoms to come with fibromyalgia alone, even without the hormonal boost that comes from being a female, you’re feeling absolutely miserable. Then compound that with the awful symptoms that accompany a period itself, including nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and much more.
What About Menopause?
“But I thought fibromyalgia mostly effected 40-55 year-old women. So there can’t be that many women experiencing worse pain than those without fibro, right?” For the record, this is a great way to start a fight. I do NOT recommend ever asking this question out loud to a female suffering from fibromyalgia. First of all, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association, female hormones have been shown to have profound effects on the central nervous system and thus, on pain. So, whether women are still experiencing periods or not, they are still going to have more intense and longer durations of pain than men, simply by virtue of their hormonal structure. Second, fibro patients going through menopause or even post-menopause experience worse pain and symptoms than those without fibromyalgia.
So, is fibromyalgia worse for women? As you can see here, a woman’s experience of fibromyalgia, no matter where she is in her hormonal cycle in regards to age, is much more intense. This is not meant in any way to diminish the experience of men suffering from fibromyalgia. Rather, it is meant to encourage compassion and empathy for women dealing with this awful condition. Living with fibro is hard enough by itself. But having to deal with friends, family, and co-workers who dismiss you and your pain as just an average complaint makes it even tougher. If you or someone you love is a woman living with fibromyalgia, please share this with them. Also, share your experience with us too.