When pop musician Lady Gaga was forced to back out of her appearance at Brazil’s Rock in Rio concert last year due to what she described as “severe pain,” her admission may have done more to raise awareness for the condition fibromyalgia than any advertising campaign could have hoped to do.
The singer issued her mea culpa for the cancelled performance to her 75 million-plus Twitter followers, likely introducing many of her fans – especially the younger ones – to the often-debilitating condition fibromyalgia, which affects about 10 million Americans and upwards of 400 million people around the world. Shockingly, of those nearly 400 million sufferers, an estimated 90 percent are women.
Currently, there is still very little known about fibromyalgia, other than that it is most likely a nerve disorder that causes overstimulation and overreaction to pain signals in the brain. This is known as abnormal pain perception processing. The fact that fibromyalgia affects many more women than it does men calls to mind several other painful conditions that are often associated with fibromyalgia – and with women. Those conditions include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), interstitial cystitis and temporomandibular joint disorder.
Dr. Alexandra George is a neuromuscular dentist based in Wexford, Pennsylvania. She specializes in treating patients with temporomandibular joint disorder and believes the key to solving the temporomandibular joint disorder puzzle may not lie far from the key to the fibromyalgia puzzle.
“We suspect the reason that predominantly women suffer from TMJ disorder is due to female hormones. TMJ has been shown to affect women who are in their childbearing years most frequently, and it affects those women more severely than any other age or gender group,” says George.
And fibromyalgia has similar traits. A recent study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham revealed that in a 25-day cycle, women with fibromyalgia suffered the most severe fibromyalgia-related pain on the days their bodies produced the lowest levels of testosterone and progesterone, theoretically starting around week three of the female hormonal cycle and increasing midway through week two of the following month’s cycle.
“It just goes to show how tightly interwoven our body systems are, and how by just knocking the female hormones ever so slightly out of balance can take a major toll on the body,” says George. “It’s my hope that in the future a greater understanding of hormones in women can help end both of these conditions for the women who suffer from them.”