Hold That Pause
Hold That Pause

Fibromyalgia and Menopause Part II

A woman holding her head in pain. Image courtesy of iStockphoto.comMy recent diagnosis of fibromyalgia left me feeling both relieved and frustrated.  Relieved because I was told I do not have RA (rheumatoid arthritis), frustrated because fibromyalgia is such a nebulous condition.  So nebulous in fact, that nearly half (48%) of physicians and healthcare providers do not even believe it exists, and are reluctant to even diagnose it, since that would actually make it real, I suppose.

I find it quite telling, however, that according to the report released by East Tennessee State University researchers, “fibromyalgia is the most common presentation of pain in both general medicine and rheumatology.”  This is telling to me because given how I am feeling, and given what I know and understand about rheumatoid arthritis, I was certain I had it.  That is how real, painful, and debilitating the symptoms are; and apparently if it is “the most common presentation of pain” in rheumatology, I’m not alone in my suffering, either.

I am also quite intrigued with the suggestion by East Tennessee State University researchers, that there is a possible connection between menopause and fibromyalgia.  According to the researchers, it is commonly known that among fibromyalgia patients, 85 to 90% of them are women, and many of them are also menopausal.

This is significant to me for a couple of reasons:  

First, by the time a woman reaches actual menopause, her ovaries are producing very little estrogen.  Second, estrogen plays a direct role in maintaining healthy levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a very powerful chemical that is primarily responsible for maintaining stable moods and modulating pain sensors.   When estrogen levels are low – as they are for women in menopause – then serotonin levels are low as well, which can result in unstable moods, depression, and hyper-sensitivity to pain, a hallmark symptom of fibromyalgia.       

This also helps explain why the first thing the rheumatologist suggested for me was a prescription for the antidepressant Cymbalta.  Basically, antidepressants work by blocking a series of biochemical processes which result in higher serotonin levels in the brain. There has also been a lot of research on the effectiveness of antidepressants for treating chronic pain – which is basically what fibromyalgia is – so I suppose it makes perfect sense to prescribe it. 

However, I am not particularly fond of antidepressants in general, which, by the way, are written for women going through menopause to the tune of billions of dollars a year, so I won’t be taking them. Of course, none of this solves my chronic joint and muscle pain, and extraordinary fatigue, which led me to the rheumatologist in the first place. But it certainly opens doors for discussions about the link between menopause and fibromyalgia, which appears to be from what I can tell thus far, very real.

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.




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Tags: Life After Menopause

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About the Author

Magnolia is dedicated to empowering women to take responsibility for their own health.