Fibromyalgia is a complex and often misunderstood condition characterized by widespread pain, fatigue, and heightened sensitivity to touch. While it can affect anyone, it’s disproportionately prevalent among women. As many as 90% of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women.
If you've ever wondered why women are more susceptible to fibromyalgia, you’re not alone. Read on as Bradley A Silva, MD, double board-certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine, sheds light on the factors that contribute to this gender discrepancy.
One of the primary reasons for the higher prevalence of fibromyalgia in women is the role of estrogen. Estrogen is a key female sex hormone and plays a role in pain perception and sensitivity.
According to a 2023 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, stable hormone levels may help reduce pain sensitivity but fluctuations in estrogen levels, such as those occurring during the menstrual cycle and menopause, may increase pain sensitivity and contribute to the development and severity of fibromyalgia symptoms.
Research suggests that genetics play a significant role in the likelihood of developing fibromyalgia. Specific genetic markers appear more frequently in women, increasing their susceptibility to the condition. According to research published by the National Library of Medicine, your risk of developing this condition is about eight times higher if your siblings or children have fibromyalgia too.
While genes alone don't determine who gets fibromyalgia, they can make women more vulnerable when combined with other factors.
In addition to hormonal fluctuations and genetic disposition, women may be more prone to developing fibromyalgia because of neurological sensitivity and immune system differences.
Women's nervous systems may contribute to their heightened vulnerability to fibromyalgia. Studies have shown that women tend to have a more sensitive pain response than men. This increased sensitivity could make them more likely to experience and report the widespread pain characteristic of fibromyalgia.
Your immune system also plays a role. Women generally have stronger immune responses due to evolutionary factors aimed at protecting both the mother and her offspring. However, this robust immune response might also contribute to the development of conditions like fibromyalgia, where the immune system's activity appears dysregulated.
When it comes to fibromyalgia, there are psychological factors at play, which includes both coping mechanisms and sociocultural influences.
Women often experience stress, anxiety, and depression at higher rates than men. These factors can influence pain perception and coping mechanisms. For example, anxiety can make pain feel more intense, and the pain of fibromyalgia can trigger more anxious feelings in a vicious cycle of anxiety and pain.
Sociocultural factors can't be ignored either. Societal expectations and gender norms might lead women to suppress their pain or seek help less frequently. This could result in delayed diagnosis and treatment, allowing fibromyalgia to progress unchecked.
While the exact reasons for the gender disparity in fibromyalgia prevalence are complex and multifaceted, it's important to note that each individual is unique. Factors like genetics, hormones, and psychosocial elements interact in intricate ways, but the good news is that you never have to navigate fibromyalgia management on your own.
Here at Lakeshore Pain and Spine Center, Dr. Silva approaches fibromyalgia management with all these nuances and complexities in mind. Treatment plans can include one or more of the following:
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of fibromyalgia, regardless of gender, seeking medical advice and support early on is crucial.
Call our Kenosha, Wisconsin, location at 262-484-4035 or request an appointment online and start exploring your fibromyalgia treatment options.