Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in specific body areas, is often accompanied by sleep disturbances, cognitive difficulties, and other somatic symptoms and affects 4 million Americans. Interestingly, the majority of these are women. According to a 2023 study, between 80 and 96% of fibromyalgia diagnoses are for women.
If you’re a woman diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you might wonder why you’re more prone to fibromyalgia.
In this blog post, neurologist Lenny Cohen, MD, and our team of experts explore some key factors contributing to why women are more prone to fibromyalgia.
It’s no secret that women experience many hormonal fluctuations throughout their life. Puberty, monthly menstrual cycles, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and menopause all contribute to significant hormonal shifts.
These fluctuations, especially where estrogen is concerned, significantly contribute to the higher prevalence of fibromyalgia in women. Estrogen may influence your pain perception and sensitivity. Steady estrogen levels can help reduce pain sensitivity, but on the flip side, if estrogen drops or fluctuates, your pain sensitivity may increase. This connection between hormones and women makes women more susceptible to fibromyalgia.
You may be at a higher risk if your mother, grandmother, or other female relatives have experienced fibromyalgia. Genetic predispositions and variations in specific genes could make women more susceptible to this condition.
According to research published in Molecular Pain, genetic factors 一 particularly genes SLC64A4, TRPV2, MYT1L, and NRXN3 一 are potentially responsible for up to 50% of fibromyalgia cases.
Central sensitization is when your central nervous system becomes hypersensitive to pain signals. Women tend to have a higher prevalence of central sensitization in general, which could also contribute to the development of fibromyalgia. In other words, this heightened pain sensitivity may make you more likely to experience widespread pain and discomfort.
Stress can trigger and exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms. Women often face unique stressors related to societal expectations, family responsibilities, and career pressures. These stressors can impact the development and severity of fibromyalgia symptoms.
Additionally, coping mechanisms may differ between sexes, with women sometimes being more prone to emotional expression and seeking help. In seeking help for stress and pain, there’s the potential for an increase in the reporting of fibromyalgia symptoms. (This means that men may also have fibromyalgia and chronic stress but may not have reported the symptoms.)
While the exact cause of fibromyalgia is undetermined, evidence suggests that immune system dysregulation may be involved in its development. Autoimmune diseases tend to affect women more frequently.
Health care-seeking behavior
Women are generally more likely to seek medical care and report their symptoms to health care providers. This higher health care utilization may lead to a greater diagnosis rate of fibromyalgia in women. Men may underreport their symptoms or attribute them to other causes, which could lead to potential underdiagnosis.
How we can help
At Chicago Neurological Services in Roscoe Village and Oak Park, Illinois, our team specializes in diagnosing and treating fibromyalgia. Dr. Cohen uses a comprehensive approach to managing your fibromyalgia.
Your potential treatments may include:
- Medication, such as pain relievers, muscle relaxers, and antidepressants
- Anti-seizure drugs
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
If you spot the signs of fibromyalgia, call the Chicago Neurological Services location of your choice to book your appointment. You can also request an appointment via our convenient online booking tool.