You don’t need an article to tell you that the menstrual cycle and fibromyalgia aren’t the best companions. In fact, science has discovered that there may be a direct correlation between flare-ups of the disease and the menstrual cycle. What may surprise you is that it may not be happening during the phase of the cycle that you think.
While menses is recognized as the “cycle,” it is actually a much longer process that is divided into several different phases. How these phases interact with fibromyalgia is leading researchers to identify certain aspects of the disease that may explain why more women get it than men.
Why do more women get fibromyalgia than men?
While men do get fibromyalgia, almost 90% of the people diagnosed with this disease have been women. As more and more is coming to be understood about the effect of the menstrual cycle and fibromyalgia symptoms on each other, there is a growing trend of thinking that hormones play a pivotal role in the experience of the disease. Many women experience more flare-ups with their fibromyalgia during the leuteal phase of their menstrual cycle than any other time of the month.
What is the leuteal phase?
The leuteal phase is the phase when women with fibromyalgia may be most affected by their menstrual cycle. Most women don’t recognize this phase as it does not occur with menses, but is the period after ovulation and is the 14 to 16 day period before menses. During this time the primary hormone that is being produced is progesterone. It is thought that it is the increased levels of this hormone during this cycle that can lead to increased difficulties with fibromyalgia associated symptoms.
Why doesn’t it affect all women in the same way?
Not all women experience menstrual cycle and fibromyalgia symptom increase. Science is beginning to think that the levels of progesterone produced during the leuteal phase are what determines a flare up in symptoms but that since these levels are not going to be the same in every woman, the change in symptoms won’t be as well. It is not a case of an increase in progesterone being the problem, but the amount of the increase as compared to the base level of the hormone in the body. The more dramatic the increase, the more a woman may experience increased fibromyalgia symptoms. Another aspect of the complications of the menstrual cycle and fibromyalgia symptoms lies in the mood difficulties associated with the cycle.
The role of Estrogen in mood
Many women experience a form of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) that is marked by a change in mood stability. This is due to the increased levels of estrogen that occur on or near the on-set of menses. Estrogen is related to how the body and mind controls and processes serotonin and dopamine.
The influx or depletion of the hormone can cause mood swings that can make you over-reactive compared to how your emotional state is during non-hormonal cycles. With women who have dramatic increases in progesterone during the leuteal cycle there may be higher levels of estrogen produces on or near the time of menses, leading to greater mood disparity.
The Menstrual Cycle and Pain
The menstrual cycle and fibromyalgia combination tends to lead to an increase in pain and inflammation due to the levels of hormones in the body that have to do with serotonin and dopamine. If you are in a state of hyper-arousal, you will also feel greater pain. Through a process that is not yet fully understood, the pain and inflammation associated with fibromyalgia can increase during this time as well.
Part of it is attributed to the body’s natural tendency to retain water during the menstrual cycle. This water retention can increase pressure on inflamed tissue and cause greater pain, which may be experienced with more sensitivity do to the increased hormone levels in the body.
How to manage pain during your cycle
There are many ways that you can help to manage your menstrual cycle and fibromyalgia. Many doctors recommend an SSRI to help maintain an even serotonin and dopamine reaction in the body. You may also want to try a diuretic during the menses stage.
Eating a diet that avoids foods that can increase water retention and inflammation – such as foods that are too high in salt or that have been cooked at very high temperatures can help to regulate symptoms and pain as well. Exercise is considered to be under-prescribed for fibromyalgia and is one of the most effective ways of managing the condition, and hormone production in the body. Many of the alternative exercises, such as yoga or tai chi, teach a form of breathing that aids in pain management as well.
Fibromyalgia and menopause
Many women are diagnosed with fibromyalgia in their 40s through 60s which led many scientists to believe that menopause is associated with its onset. There is more understanding as to how the changing levels of progesterone and estrogen in the body can affect the menstrual cycle and fibromyalgia to lend credence to that theory. While there is no known cure for fibromyalgia, many women can avoid the onset of severe symptoms by adopting preventative and pain control life style habits before the onset of menopause.
Tips for how to keep yourself going
Dealing with your menstrual cycle and fibromyalgia can seem like a very unfair hand to have been dealt in life. There are many ways to manage the symptoms of both so that you don’t lose your quality of life while experiencing each. One of the best ways to manage fibromyalgia symptoms is to create a bedtime routine that will help keep your body and your cycles on track. A healthy diet and lifestyle is also recognized as essential to pain and inflammation management.
Your doctor may also prescribe SSRIs and anti-inflammatory medication to help you to be able to learn new lifestyle habits more easily. There are also many alternative and complementary treatments that women with fibromyalgia have had great success with in controlling their symptoms.
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