The Menstrual Cycle and Fibromyalgia
If you think that there’s a link between your fibromyalgia symptom flare-ups and your menstrual cycle, you’re probably right, and you’re certainly not alone. Many women who suffer from FMS report an increase in headaches, body pain, memory problems and sleep difficulties, in the period leading up to, and during the first half of, their menses.
What to Expect
While fibromyalgia sufferers may experience a variety of symptoms just before menstruation and during their period, some fibromyalgia symptoms can become particularly worse during this time. Among those symptoms most commonly noted to flare up around the time of menstruation:
- Sleep disorders
- Widespread pain
One possible explanation for the increase in fibro symptoms during menstruation, and the pre-menstrual period is the increased production of hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, during a woman’s time of the month. While the exact cause of fibromyalgia is not known, one popular theory is that the primary problem is "abnormal hormone regulation". If this were the case, the hormonal shifts that occur during a woman’s menstrual cycle could be directly linked to FMS.
Other theories about the cause of fibromyalgia include abnormal regulation of the stages of sleep. In a study conducted at the University of Virginia in 2000, researchers looked at the effects of a woman’s menstrual cycle on her sleep patterns. While the 10 patients in the study were rheumatoid arthritis patients, the results are applicable to fibromyalgia patients.
The participants were asked to rate their quality of sleep during the first and second half of their menstrual cycles. The majority rated their sleep during the first half of their cycle, when pain levels were lower, as worse than during the second half. Sleep tests – in which a movement-monitor was attached to the participants’ wrist while they slept - revealed that, despite what the women thought, they were most restless during the second half of their cycle. The researchers suggested that the increased sleep disturbances were associated with incidences of heightened pain during the second half of the menstrual cycle, when progesterone levels are highest.
Even though the study’s participants suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, not fibromyalgia, their reports of feeling worse during the week leading up to their period are constantly echoed by female FMS patients. More research into this phenomenon is obviously needed, but until then it might offer an explanation as to why FMS patients perceive their sleep to be more restful towards the end of their menses, despite the fact that they are actually experiencing more pain.
What You can do About Menstrual Pain
If premenstrual pain is a problem for you, try allowing for extra time to rest, or increasing the dosage of your nighttime sleep medication during that phase of your cycle. You might also want to check out our section on how to improve your sleep. Other methods of pain relief that you may find helpful for pain management include:
- Heat therapy
- Light stretching
- Getting a massage
While the connection between fibromyalgia and the menstrual cycle are not yet clear, one thing is: in order to gain a better understanding of the symptoms, we need to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes of fibromyalgia. Only then can the connections between the body’s natural cycles and the symptoms of FMS become apparent.