By: Amy Schaeffer
Fibromyalgia is a painful disorder that is not completely understood. It is far more common in females of middle age and expresses itself through various tender points on the body, debilitating headaches, poor sleep, and often a host of psychological symptoms ranging from depression to anxiety. Although it’s been a diagnosis that has been accepted by most physicians for two decades, it is still not entirely agreed upon in terms of etiology or treatment.
What is known from previous studies is that people who suffer from a diagnosis of fibromyalgia have a lower quality of life and often are unable to perform everyday tasks due to severe pain that may occur in certain areas or is widespread throughout the body. It is unknown if the social alienation of the disorder due to pain is what actually causes the common psychological features, but researchers have discovered a new type of discomfort that was no previously associated with the diagnosis of fibromyalgia — pelvic floor pain, or general distress in the lower abdomen that may or may not include urinary symptoms.
Researchers from Oregon Health and Science University set out to examine the connection in a group of patients after they noted that many women with fibromyalgia were complaining of pelvic pain, according to MD. The study looked at factors such as type of pain, length of time pain had been present, severity of pain, and whether or not other factors were present, such as urinary symptoms or irritation. The findings were published in the academic journal American Society For Pain Management Nursing. The researchers from Oregon and Health and Science University said that the results of their study were compelling.
Fibromyalgia patients were recently found to have more symptom burden from bothersome pelvic pain syndromes than women seeking care for pelvic floor disease at an urogynecology clinic. Fibromyalgia management should include evaluation and treatment of pelvic floor disorders recognizing that pelvic distress and urinary symptoms are associated with more severe fibromyalgia symptoms.”
Pelvic pain may exacerbate sleep problems and contribute to an overall lower quality of life. The psychosocial aspects of living with fibromyalgia have been well documented in medical literature and this finding may add another layer to the complex issue of having meaningful and enjoyable experiences while coping with fibromyalgia.
In general, women with pelvic pain frequently complain of painful sexual intercourse, which may cause difficulties in romantic partnerships and contribute to low self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness and despair. Many with chronic pain syndromes have difficulty communicating the impact their disease has on their lives to their partners, particularly because most women don’t look sick and may have “good days” where their pain level is low. Anti-depressants and pain medications, often given to people with fibromyalgia, can exacerbate lack of sex drive or interfere with normal urination, even causing urinary hesitancy. Some pain medications can slow down peristalsis, or the travel of food through the digestive tract, which could exacerbate pelvic pain due to constipation.
Each woman may have a different root cause of pelvic pain, but women with known fibromyalgia should be screened for difficulties associated with pelvic pain. Not all treatments will work for all women depending upon the cause of the pain and the effect the pain is having on the woman and/or her ability to function or have sexual relations. Quality of life continues to be an area that needs research for fibromyalgia patients. Addressing issues that affect comfort, sleep, urinary elimination and sexuality are pivotal pieces to improving the quality of life for those individuals with fibromyalgia.