Menstruation & Cyclic Fibro Changes
Researchers have discovered that certain conditions worsen just before and during a woman’s menstrual period.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia (FMS), and interstitial cystitis (IC) are types of autonomic nervous system disorders. The autonomic nerve system uses the nerves, spinal cord, and brain to regulate functions such as bladder control and blood pressure. Such functions are for the most part, involuntary and occur below our level of consciousness.
Thomas Chelimsky, MD, a neurology professor at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University says, “Since other autonomic disorders like migraine and fainting seem to have menstrual variations, we theorized that these conditions would have these variations as well.”
More Women With Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a condition that is characterized by widespread pain and specific tender spots. IBS manifests as abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, and constipation. IC causes bladder pain. All of these conditions are more common in women than in men and all are exacerbated by anxiety and stress, says Chelimsky.
In the Case Western study, researchers gave out questionnaires to 77 fibromyalgia sufferers, 79 IBS patients, and 129 patients with IC. All of the participants were women. The questions they answered related to their levels of symptoms over the course of a month.
A total 25% of those with IBS, 18% of those with fibromyalgia, and 9% of those with IC said their symptoms worsened just before or during their periods. Chelimsky believes this may be due to fluctuations in a woman’s hormone levels at that point in the menstrual cycle. “Estrogen is a pain preventative,” says Chelimsky. Estrogen levels dip just before menstruation and remain low throughout a woman’s menstrual period.
In addition to these findings, the study team also discovered that 15% of the women said their pain worsened with menopause, an additional point for dropping estrogen levels. Another finding caught the researchers by surprise: 37% of the participants said their symptoms worsened with their first period. The scientists aren’t sure why this should be so. They also do not know why some women experience symptom exacerbation due to fluctuating hormones while others do not.
A report of these findings was given at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. When asked to comment on these findings, clinical director for the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland, Nathan Wei, MD stated, “This study confirms the clinical impression made by practitioners for many years—that hormonal shifts play a major role in symptom exacerbation.”
Chelimsky adds that other studies have shown that women who take birth control pills based on estrogen and suffer from IC, fibromyalgia, or IBS tend to report a lower level of symptoms than do other women who suffer from these conditions.