Women and Fibromyalgia: Research on Speculative Causes

“The only question left to be settled now is, are women persons?”, Susan B. Anthony abeautiful-cathy

Until relatively recently little has been known about women’s health in general. Therefore it is little wonder that fibromyalgia (FMS) and its sibling chronic fatigue (CFS), long thought by many to be the result of women’s psychological inadequacies, have often been relegated to the myth of the hysterical female psyche. There are more questions than answers regarding why FMS occurs more frequently in women. One thing is for certain however, a woman’s spirit is awe-inspiring. The woman pictured here is embracing all that is open and honored about nature and life.

But, we do live in a world where many challenges face us, particularly where conditions tend to be more relevant to women than men. What is it about fibromyalgia and women? Do we attract that dis-ease? The speculative causes of FMS are numerous. There are those who argue that there is a viral link, suggesting that it could be infectious. The ‘proof’ of this theory is extremely inconclusive and there are no known tests to substantiate this speculation. In fact, how would this perspective explain why FMS is primarily a women’s condition?

Many physical therapists (physiotherapists) believe that fibromyalgia pain is caused by hypermobility of joints. While their view is somewhat interesting, it has not been my experience with the women I have interviewed who suffer from FMS. Other than among certain PTs I have not heard others suggest that this could be a cause of this painful syndrome.

Some endocrinologists believe there is a decreased nocturnal level of prolactin (a single-chain protein hormone closely related to growth hormone) in women with FMS. Still others believe there is a genetic link and is hereditary in terms of predisposition. Some are convinced that FMS is due to inadequate thyroid regulation. Less fruitful for research purposes is the theory that there is a chemical imbalance in the muscles of women with FMS, the pain of which can be explained by a malic acid and magnesiun deficiency. While it may be so that there is a chemical imbalance in the muscles of persons with FMS, the question to be asked is why this occurs primarily in women.

Chronic Fatigue, particularly among women seems to be an American focus of interest of late by, among others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their primary thrust is that of genetic mutations. And so, the search for medical causes of FMS and CFS continues. Once again the endless questions about why these conditions plague primarily women.

As this research continues few (if any) suggest that FMS and CFS may occur more frequently in women as a result of oppressive social structures in society which condition women (and some men) to put the needs of others first before their own. This sense of always being ‘on duty’ could result in an over-aroused nervous sytem. In my book I delve into this theory in greater depth. My main thrust is: WHY WOMEN?

About Barbara Keddy

I am a Professor Emeritus, School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. My B.Sc.is in Nursing while my MA. and Ph.D. are in Sociology. I am married, a mother and grandmother living on the east coast of Canada. I have personally lived with fibromyalgia for about 40 years. I published a book with iUniverse in 2007. This book detailed living with this condition and allowed the voices of twenty women who have fibromyalgia to tell their stories.
This entry was posted in Causes?, Over-aroused nervous system, Research, Women's health. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Women and Fibromyalgia: Research on Speculative Causes

  1. J. Milnor Steward Jr. says:

    I worked in orthopaedics in the Mid-Atlantic States for almost 20 years. The “myth” referenced in the first paragraph above was a common opinion among orthopaedic surgeons as recently as 10 years ago.

    Fortunately, today there is a huge volume of information published by several medical specialties to dispell this myth.

    Being familiar with Dr. Keddy’s background, I know her to be a tenacious researcher and look forward to reading this book.

  2. I have been a massage therapist for many years and worked with fibromyalgia clients frequently. I agree with Ms. Keddy’s ‘on duty’ personality trait as being present in the clients I have massaged.

    I look forward to reading more as knowledge helps me treat my clients better.

    Jackie

  3. Barbara Bleasdale says:

    I have been living with Fibro for many years now and know first hand what Dr. Keddy speaks of. I am very interested in her theory of being “on duty” and its relationship to the condtion. I am anxious to read her book as I believe it will shed new light on the condition and be a valuable resource for those living with Fibro.

  4. L Goldberg says:

    As someone who negotiates a life with chronic pain, the symptoms of which are often similar to those living with fibromyalgia, the publication of Dr. Keddy’s book is a welcome arrival. That she approches the topic from both an experiential and gendered perspective, guided by the stories of women living the dis-ease is both timely and new. Such a book will be of great benefit to those of us who live with fibromyalgia and/or chronic pain, in addition to the health care providers who continue to learn how to support our journey.

  5. A. Warner says:

    I am quite familiar with the concept of being “on duty” and my research has led to an interesting possible evolutionary link. In all beings there are varying degrees of “physiological sensitivity to external stimuli”, which is comparable to being “on duty” or “high alert”. This state allows a quicker response to dangers in the environment which is particularly crucial to the safety of the “herd.” Unfortunately, it also leads to higher levels of stress hormones and all the havoc that will bring to the individual in question; Now to the female link. Women who have a higher sensitivity, or are “on duty” more, will be better able to protect their babies and children from harm, thus increasing the odds that their children will survive, ensuring that it is an evolutionary trait that continues. This also links to the decreased prolactin overnight, because being able to wake easily also allows you to protect your young at a time when you’re very susceptible to attack. While this isn’t a concern in this day and age of the home security system, it certainly was for our ancestors not long ago.

    As the men were not caring for the young, but often out “hunting” they had to be able to sleep through greater levels of background noise and activity, and so the development of the trait is not as common in men. As hormone levels affect the development of the brain for boys and girls even in the womb, there is likely a link here as well that the brain of females is set up for greater sensitivity and reactivity.

  6. Deborah VonSprecken says:

    Your message rings a long ago bell with me. In the early ninties, I was diagnosed by a counselor that I possessed a hyper-sensitivity or ultra-sensitivity to my surroundings. Following a nasty divorce, I continued working full time and dancing each night for exercise. The only thing was after years of dancing, I always hurt, more and more until I was suddenly paralyzed on my right side. It took almost a year to find the culprit cyst and following surgery, I was able to walk, but no longer handle pain as before. The pain has taken it’s toll. I am a young 55 disabled woman whom is trying to teach my brain to be quiet. shhhhh calm thyself…. Somedays, my accomplishment is walking a Super Wal=Mart with my SD pulling and keeping me upright. Your words speak the truth. Thank you, Deborah

  7. laya shugol says:

    I LIVE IN FLA AND HAD TO TRAVEL TO MICHIGAN WHERE THERE WAS SOME UNDERSTANDING OF FIBRO. My DR. BELIEVES THAT THERE IS SOME CONNECTION WITH THE THRYOID AND ALSO THAT THERE IS AN ERROR IN METABOLISM WHICH CAN BE REGULATED WITH A SUBSTANCE CALLED : ” DMG.’ HOPE IT WORKS!
    MY MAJOR CONCERNS WITH THE DISEASE ARE THAT DOCS WANT TO GIVE YOU EVERY PILL UNDER THE SUN AND TELL YOU THAT IT IS IN YOUR HEAD. IT IS PROFITABLE TO KEEP YOU COMING BACK AND TO KEEP YOU MEDICATED. HYPER SENSITIVITY TO THE SURROUNDINGS AND TO PAIN ARE THE REALITY OF THE FIBRO PERSON. I USE WHITE NOISE AT NIGHT AND TRY TO EXERCICE. WE CAN BEAT THIS LADIES. KEEP LOOKING FOR RESEARCHERS AND THE RIGHT DOC.
    LAYA SHUGOL

  8. barbara keddy says:

    Hi Laya: Thanks for your comments. DMG is the abbreviation for Dimethyl Glycine or B15. It is generally thought to be an anti-toxidant, anti-cancer, anti-aging substance. I have not heard of it used in FMS. Let us know if it helps!
    Of the hundreds of women I have inteviewed or spoken with over many years I have only heard of one (actually me!) who had a thryoid condition. I keep asking the women (and more recently men) if they have had their thyroid tested and all seem to be in order. However, it is interesting that there is a higher incidence of thyroid problems among women generally, perhaps that is why some researchers are wedded to the idea. It is true that there are some researchers/physicians who believe there is a metabolic disorder associated with fibro. Unfortunately this is just one among many speculative causes!
    Research abounds and none of us can say with certainty what the cause is, although many of us are bound to one theory as opposed to another (myself included!).

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