Fibromyalgia and Menopause
I received a diagnosis of fibromyalgia recently. I saw a Rheumatologist because I was convinced the symptoms which I have been exhibiting the last 18 months were an autoimmune system issue, and pointed to rheumatoid arthritis, aka, RA: nodes in my index finger joint; inflamed joint in my big toe; low grade fevers; debilitating fatigue; muscle aches; symmetrical joint paint; pressure points; and trouble sleeping.
I have been coping with osteoarthritis for most of my life. I was a long distance runner for over 20 years. Suffice it to say that my knees hurt. With age, the joint pain has become almost unbearable. With all of these other symptoms, however, I began to wonder if my all consuming physical pain was far more than just deteriorating joints.
After I spoke with the physician – who was very through by the way – she told me I didn’t have RA. The node on my index finger was a bone spur, and the inflammation in the joint at the base of my big toe was just a garden variety bunion.
“Instead,” she said, “What you are describing is fibromyalgia – a “common, chronic pain condition associated with several co-morbidities (combination of issues) of psychiatric and medical disorders.”
Excuse me? Did you say, “Psychiatric?”
On the one hand, I was certainly relieved that I did not have RA. I have known people with severe RA who lived with debilitating pain. The thought of such a diagnosis did not sit well with me. But then, a diagnosis which has the word “psychiatric” attached to it isn’t exactly welcome news, either.
I’m not sure what you know or think about fibromyalgia. Personally, I’ve always thought it was a catch-all phrase that doctors used when they couldn’t come up with a diagnosis to explain symptoms, much like the proverbial term “colicky” for babies who cry for no discernible reason. I mentioned this to my physician, and she did confirm that many physicians do not believe fibromyalgia exists. Many others, however, do.
I do believe it is possible for our bodies to become so overly stimulated - be it from chronic pain, or from psychological and emotional issues - that pain sensors get “stuck” if you will, in the on position, rendering you hypersensitive to aches and pains – a hallmark of fibromyalgia. I have absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever to substantiate this belief, so take it for what it’s worth – simply my opinion.
But you might find this piece of information, which I did do a little research on, of some interest. According to East Tennessee State University researchers, most fibromyalgia patients, 85% to 90%, are women, and many of them are menopausal.
Please note that I said, menopausal and not peri-menopausal, because there is a difference. A woman is menopausal (like me) who has gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle. A woman in peri-menopause, however, is still getting cycles, but experiencing the hormone changes which lead to menopause.
The East Tennessee State University study also said they believe there may be a connection between fibromyalgia and menopause, given that most diagnoses generally occur in menopausal and post-menopausal women between the ages of 40 – 55. This is significant to me since my own symptoms have been getting steadily worse over the past 18 months, and have actually escalated since I reached menopause.
I am now interested in exploring this subject. If you are in perimenopause or menopause, and are also experiencing severe muscle and joint pain, coupled with malaise and fatigue, and have wondered if you might be suffering with fibromyalgia, then my next few posts might be for you.
Magnolia Miller is a certified healthcare consumer advocate in women’s health and a women’s freelance health writer and blogger at The Perimenopause Blog.