Fibromyalgia: it sure loves women!

BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
Ask Earle

02 August 2014

#1 Women are more likely to visit the doctor

The statistics regarding the genders of fibromyalgia sufferers may be a little skewed, as this is based on the number of each gender that are diagnosed with the condition; however, many more may be suffering undiagnosed.

This is one reason why women are diagnosed with fibromyalgia more than men - because, generally, they are more willing to visit their GP than men, so are more likely to recieve an official diagnosis. Since the average length of time it takes to arrive at a diagnosis of fibromyalgia is around 5 years (GPs try to eliminate all sorts of rheumatic and neurological complaints to begin with), those who visit the least frequently (men) are unlikely to see this sort of lengthy process to a conclusion.

In a similar point, the most common age range for fibromyalgia diagnoses are 35-45 years old. Women may attend surgeries regularly on account of children, breast screening and parents. Again, they are engaging the health service. Men are not regular attendees at this age.

#2 Women are more prone to sleep disorders

Sleep disorders and insomnia affect women far more than men and menstrual disorders, which can also affect sleep quality, are of course exclusive to women.

Of those suffering insomnia, an estimated 75-90% also have a comorbid medical disorder (of which pain conditions are one category). The biggest comorbid category associated with insomnia, however, is the range of psychiatric disorders, the most common of which is depression.

We know fibromyalgia patients have low serotonin levels, so while not necessarily depressed, their tolerance to pain is greatly reduced. In fact, one of the big effects of low serotonin is poor sleep quality and insomniacs report even more physical problems than people with depression.

In 2011, Arthritis and Rheumatism reported a 10 year prospective trial from Norway that found “a strong association between sleep disturbance and fibromyalgia in adult women” and that the relationship was dose-dependent, ie: the higher the reported sleep disturbances the higher the risk of fibromyalgia.

While this doesn’t mean that poor sleep causes fibromyalgia and of course it may be that the pain of fibromyalgia causes a lot of lost sleep, it is the quality, not quantity, of sleep that dictates our levels of fatigue and physical activity the following day. In fact, fatigue and inactivity may be better indicators of clinical pain than simple sleep duration according to the American Pain Society.

Why quality over quantity? Only deep sleep is restorative and regenerative. Disturbed, dreamless sleep never results in a great day to follow.

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Did you know?

Women are more prone to fibromyalia than men! It is estimated that 90% of those with the condition are female.

Why fibromyalgia loves women

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