Women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men. They also typically experience more severe symptoms.

Studies show that women with fibromyalgia typically experience more generalized pain, distress, and other associated symptoms, than men.

In this article, we explore the different ways that men and women may experience fibromyalgia. We also describe common causes and treatments.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms, “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain throughout the body.

People with the condition have a heightened sensitivity to pain and discomfort, but individual symptoms will vary from person to person. Doctors do not know the exact cause of fibromyalgia, and there is no cure.

Treatment revolves around relieving symptoms and applying practical coping mechanisms.

Learn more about fibromyalgia here.

The hallmark of fibromyalgia is chronic, widespread pain that occurs independently of injury, arthritis, or other disorders.

People with fibromyalgia may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • persistent pain in several areas of the body
  • chronic fatigue
  • trouble sleeping
  • cognitive problems, such as concentration or memory
  • dry eyes
  • heightened sensitivity to pain
  • digestive issues
  • tingling or numbness in extremities

Stressful or traumatic events can trigger fibromyalgia flare-ups or worsen existing symptoms.

Share on Pinterest
Irina Efremova/Stocksy

Women with fibromyalgia may experience more severe pain symptoms than men. A 2020 study found that women typically had higher tender point counts during fibromyalgia diagnosis.

Fibromyalgia tender points are 18 sensitive areas of the body, which doctors would use during diagnosis. However, it is now less common for medical professionals to use these.

Learn more about tender points and fibromyalgia diagnosis here.

Specific symptoms

According to the Office on Women’s Health, women are more likely to experience:

Additional symptoms common to women may involve:

Menstruation

A person’s fibromyalgia symptoms may worsen during the menstrual phase. Some studies link this increase in pain to lower progesterone and testosterone levels in the body.

Pregnancy

Many women with fibromyalgia have no problems during pregnancy, but in some cases, pregnancy can worsen symptoms of the condition.

Also, fibromyalgia can lead to heightened fatigue and mood swings, which are common in pregnancy.

Individuals should consult a doctor about fibromyalgia and pregnancy, as some medication for fibromyalgia can affect a developing fetus.

Doctors do not fully understand what causes fibromyalgia, and there may be more than one factor. For example, some researchers believe women are more likely to experience severe pain due to a higher risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

However, fibromyalgia is not a psychological condition. Instead, it shows a link between the mind and the body, indicating that a history of trauma can cause or worsen physical pain.

Some research indicates that women with a history of trauma are more likely to develop fibromyalgia. A study from 2017 found that 49% of women with fibromyalgia had experienced at least one type of adversity, such as emotional or physical abuse, during childhood.

Women with fibromyalgia were also six times more likely to have a history of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than women with esophageal or gastrointestinal disorders.

Other theories include:

  • Autoimmune disorders. These occur when the body attacks healthy tissue. Many cause inflammation and pain, and some researchers suggest that fibromyalgia may be an autoimmune disorder.
  • Central sensitization. This refers to nerves becoming hyperactive and more sensitive to pain. People with fibromyalgia appear to have increased sensitivity to pain, which may relate to central sensitization.
  • Inflammation. Fibromyalgia is usually regarded as noninflammatory, although a 2017 study found widespread inflammation in people with fibromyalgia. This is a process involving the immune system. Inflammation can become chronic and lead to muscle pain, and it also plays a role in conditions such as arthritis.

Common triggers

Events tend to trigger fibromyalgia symptoms. These may include:

  • hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy
  • an injury
  • a traumatic experience
  • stress
  • development of another disorder, such as arthritis

There are three main criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia:

  • pain and symptoms over the previous week, as well as levels of fatigue, unrefreshing sleep, or cognitive problems
  • symptoms that have been present for at least 3 months
  • no presence of another health condition that would explain the symptoms

To rule out other conditions, a doctor may perform X-rays and order bloodwork, ask about past injuries, and take a detailed medical history.

While some medical professionals still use tender points as part of diagnosis, it is not always a reliable diagnostic tool.

A wide range of treatments can help people cope with fibromyalgia pain. They include:

Many conditions can cause chronic pain, but treatments are available to help. A person should contact their doctor if unexplained pain does not improve after a few weeks.

Anyone experiencing pain accompanied by other severe symptoms, such as heart palpitations or difficulty breathing, should immediately seek medical attention.

Fibromyalgia is a treatable condition. Working with a doctor specializing in chronic pain or fibromyalgia may help a person reduce and manage their symptoms.

While the condition is chronic and there is no definitive cure, most people can develop a treatment and management plan. However, it may take time to receive an accurate diagnosis and find the right combination of therapies.

Fibromyalgia does not lead to other disorders, is not fatal, and does not damage the muscles. However, some find that the severity of symptoms changes over time.

Below are frequently asked questions about fibromyalgia in women.

How can you relieve fibromyalgia symptoms?

Fibromyalgia treatment focuses on reducing symptoms and improving quality of life. Medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle adjustments can help people live with the condition.

What conditions are similar to fibromyalgia?

Several conditions can produce similar symptoms to fibromyalgia. These include lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

How much does fibromyalgia alter daily life?

Fibromyalgia can cause widespread pain and fatigue. While people can often reduce symptoms and make lifestyle adjustments to account for their condition, it can reduce their ability to work and limit their activity.