Fibromyalgia mainly affects women, but men with the condition are significantly more likely to have more additional medical conditions, known as comorbidities, according to a new study led by the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research.
Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. It is a condition that mainly affects women, but some studies differ in their findings and have shown lower estimates, with 59% of cases affecting women.
Revisions in fibromyalgia classification criteria have led to various prevalence estimates and women-to-men ratios in the general population. The research, published in the Lancet Rheumatology, aimed to measure new cases of Fibromyalgia to determine whether the sex ratio has changed after criteria revisions and to explore the symptoms and treatment.
22 568 individuals with Fibromyalgia were included in the study
Researchers looked back at primary-care electronic health data from the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank. 22 568 individuals with Fibromyalgia were included in the study. Individuals aged 18 years or older with the first mention of Fibromyalgia were included in the research and explored by gender – men or women. The average age of participants was 48 years.
Cases of Fibromyalgia were calculated in three 5-year periods (period 1 2004–08, period 2 2009–13, and period 3 2014–18).
- 88·8% of people in the study were women.
- In period 1 of the 5 296 new cases of Fibromyalgia, 14·8% were men, and 85·2% were women.
- In period 2 of the 5 958 new cases, 10·8% were men, and 89·2% were women.
- In period 3 of the 11 314 new cases, 9·7% were men, and 90·3% were women.
- Women had a significantly higher BMI than men and had more widespread pain.
- Men had significantly more comorbidities or additional health conditions.
- Women had more gastrointestinal disorders (conditions affecting or including both the stomach and intestine).
- A significantly higher number of women received steroids, antidepressants, anxiolytics drugs used to relieve anxiety) and barbiturates (a drug used as a relaxant and for treating sleeping disorders).
- More men received gabapentin, a drug usually used to treat seizures, nerve pain from shingles, and restless leg syndrome but it can be prescribed to reduce pain.
Dr Roxanne Cooksey, Researcher at the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research based at Cardiff University, said:
“Our research deepens our understanding of Fibromyalgia and the significant gender differences for the condition. Our data does not show an increase in Fibromyalgia in men compared with women. However, this may be evident in future studies as the updated classification system was relatively new during this study. The sex differences in fibromyalgia treatment might represent clinician or patient choice, and worthy of exploring in future studies.”
The National Centre for Population Health and Wellbeing Research is funded by the Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales.