Fibromyalgia: Difference between men and women

About 90 percent of the people diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women. While both men and women are susceptible to be affected by fibromyalgia, the symptoms are much more severe in women. The reasons for this are not completely known, but looking at the patterns, some connections can be made.


Since fibromyalgia shoots up more during reproductive years, it can be concluded that the connection lies with the estrogen hormone. Another indication is that the pain associated with fibromyalgia becomes worse just before and during a menstrual cycle. In fact extremely painful periods are one of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Estrogen is a natural pain reliever. And it’s levels go down right before and during a period. Which leads to increased pain.


Studies have shown that testosterone relieves pain. Men with high levels of the hormone are less affected by fibromyalgia. Women have the hormone too but in very small quantities, usually.

Cultural Factors

In addition to differences based on hormones, cultural factors also play a role here. Generally, men are less likely to seek help when in pain, because of traditional male roles dictated by society. Because of this, a lot of men aren’t even diagnosed when affected by fibromyalgia. Rather than being perceived as less manly, men suffer through the pain. On the other hand, pain and reacting to it is “expected” from women.

Differences related to clinical characteristics of fibromyalgia  

In addition to cultural factors, men and women show different symptoms when it comes to clinical characteristics of fibromyalgia. Women tend to display more morning fatigue, widespread pain irritable bowel syndrome. Depression, sleep disorders and mood fluctuations have been found out to be same across the genders.

Impact on women’s health

There are many different impacts that fibromyalgia can have on a woman’s health:

Reproductive Health

Fibromyalgia can affect a woman’s health severely, including but not limited to her reproductive health. For example, women with fibromyalgia have a higher chance of breast cysts. It can also affect libido.


Fibromyalgia can also make pregnancy difficult. Pain and fatigue can make things more challenging. Often, these symptoms are misdiagnosed in pregnant women.

Menstrual cycle related difficulties

Fibromyalgia makes PMS more severe. It also leads to worse cramps, insomnia, back pain and headaches.


A large number of women that have fibromyalgia happen to be around the age of menopause. It could be because of decreased levels of estrogen that accompanies menopause. Since estrogen is linked with relief in pain, post menopausal women experience heightened pain, which is a symptom of fibromyalgia.

The gender gap in pain

In addition to the various forms of gender gap that exist in our society, the diagnosis and treatment of pain is another. Pain is personal and typically self reported. Only the individual herself can confirm how much pain she is in, and how often. There is a study which is often cited here. “The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain” found that women were taken less seriously, they hardly receive aggressive treatment when diagnosed, and were more likely to have their pain said as “emotional,” “psychogenic” and therefore “not real.”    

Often, pain in women is treated as a mental issue, even when one does not exist. The fact that there are no concrete causes of fibromyalgia and there are no tests to diagnose it, make it worse.

Even post diagnosis, how drugs affect women’s bodies is different than men. Women have different hormones and smaller organs, and those things determine how the body will absorb and react to medicines.

Not just fibromyalgia, women are much more likely to develop pain conditions, like arthritis. But because women’s pain is often not taken seriously and not considered real, many of these conditions are either not diagnosed or go misdiagnosed. Fortunately, studies and research is gradually indeed establishing that fibromyalgia is all too real and not a figment of imagination.   

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Neha Ramneek Kapoor

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