Women’s pain continues to meet with major misunderstandings, even from medical professionals. Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition, occurs mainly in females, yet little research exists explaining why fibromyalgia symptoms in females tend to show themselves more predominantly, and how fibromyalgia affects women differently.
Common Fibromyalgia Symptoms in Females
While gender bias in medical research persists, medical professionals and laypeople alike should educate themselves as to the unique challenges faced by females with fibro. Considering 90 percent of all people living with fibromyalgia are women, chances are, most people have a mother, sister, aunt or colleague suffering from this disorder. Here are seven fibromyalgia symptoms in females that could be a sign you have this condition.
Aching All Over
One of the most common fibromyalgia symptoms in females and males alike consists of constant, widespread, achy pain. While both men and women experience this pain, women typically report much higher pain levels than men describe.
Although any part of the body may groan with fibromyalgia pain, the most common areas sufferers experience aching the most include the back of the neck, the upper back, the lower back and the hips. Many people living with fibromyalgia also carry co-morbid diagnoses of autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis or intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s and IBS.
Indeed, some medical research indicates that fibromyalgia may contain an autoimmune component, although this remains unconfirmed. Interestingly, women with fibromyalgia often report gastrointestinal distress when they experience a fibro-flare. Many of these symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea mimic symptoms experienced by Crohn’s patients.
Tenderness — and Not the Good Kind
Another trait unique to people with fibromyalgia involves tender spots. The body contains 18 areas that often become inflamed and painful when a fibromyalgia patient flares up. Tender areas include either side of the back of the neck where the head joins the neck, several places along the frontal and dorsal planes on either side of the spine and sternum and at the knee and elbow creases.
While not all people diagnosed with fibromyalgia experience tender spots, women remain more likely than men to experience such painful areas. Fortunately, techniques such as acupuncture and acupressure offer some relief.
Many women who suffer from fibromyalgia also endure debilitating chronic fatigue. It remains unclear if this fatigue constitutes a symptom on its own or if the excessive tiredness stems from sleep constantly interrupted by pain.
People living with Fibromyalgia often experience waking up still feeling exhausted, finding their joints become particularly stiff upon waking. Some sufferers describe the experience as akin to running a marathon or hitting the weights particularly hard, then waking to aching muscles sore from exertion the next day. Fibro patients experience this aching pain on a daily basis regardless of the previous day’s exertion.
Women with fibromyalgia often experience changes to their menstrual cycle. Many women with fibromyalgia experience particularly painful, heavy periods, especially those who also carry a few extra pounds. Others who suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms as part of their fibro diagnosis lose a good deal of weight, which could lead to amenorrhea, or a cessation of their menstrual period.
Some theorize that menstrual cramping sends signals to nearby nerves, causing them to become inflamed and painful. While science has yet to prove this definitively, the preponderance of women reporting menstrual changes lends support to this hypothesis.
Blood Pressure Swings
One of the slightly rarer but most telling fibromyalgia symptoms in females occurs when the patient experiences changes in blood pressure. These changes often fluctuate with rising and falling pain levels, elevating blood pressure at times when pain worsens and a subsequent lowering of the blood pressure as pain levels recede. Other patients develop orthostatic hypotension, which causes blood pressure to decrease instead of increasing slightly upon standing, leading to dizzy spells and even syncope.
As a fibromyalgia patient myself, I’ve noted in tracking my symptoms that my blood pressure correlates to my pain levels. In addition to orthostatic hypotension, my blood pressure skyrockets when my pain levels rise, even though it typically leans toward the low side. Ironically, this symptom has gained me more sympathy from medical professionals. Although I’m a fairly frequent flyer at my local ER, one glance at the sphygmomanometer lets the doctors and nurses know something’s up.
Many fibromyalgia sufferers find themselves equally prone to migraine, leading some researchers to believe the disease has a strong neurological component. Unlike regular headaches — which are miserable enough — migraines often come accompanied with nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking, confusion and even partial paralysis in rare cases. Usually, the migraine pain triggers fibromyalgia to flare up in other areas of the body, increasing the patient’s debilitation level significantly.
Lost in a Fog
One of the most crippling aspects of fibromyalgia includes the dreaded fibro-fog. Fibro-fog refers to a feeling of confused thinking, seeing fuzzy or out-of-focus objects and being unable to concentrate.
Trying to focus during a fibro-fog causes working patients no end of on-the-job frustrations. Fibro-fog can lead to making costly errors in the workplace and, in severe cases, can derail an entire career. While researchers still puzzle over whether fibro-fog stems from the exhaustion fibromyalgia patients suffer or constitutes a unique symptom on its own, the results of fibro-fog can impact every area of a patient’s life.
Because fibromyalgia remains mostly a medical mystery, finding the correct treatment takes time, as well as trial-and-error. Many prescription pain medications bring needed relief of some of the worst fibromyalgia symptoms in females. Others find that massage therapy, acupuncture and certain herbs such as turmeric alleviate their suffering.
While a link between fibromyalgia and inflammatory diseases remains unclear, some patients report finding relief from adopting an anti-inflammatory diet high in lean protein, fruits and vegetables. Others find getting regular exercise or practicing yoga at least somewhat alleviates their pain.
Hope for the Future
The good news? More medical professionals than ever before now treat fibromyalgia as a real, life-changing disorder. As awareness of this disease rises, more funding pours in to support research efforts toward a cure. Although a cure is still out of reach for now, many remain hopeful that the future will bring effective treatment protocols for fibromyalgia sufferers.