| Reviewed by a board-certified physician
Fibromyalgia is often thought of as a “women’s condition,” but men can have it as well. Men with fibromyalgia are outnumbered—with women making up about 90 percent of cases.
That doesn’t mean the diagnosis shouldn’t be considered in men, though. After all, according to National Fibromyalgia Association estimates, 10 percent could mean one million men are living with illness.
Because of the gender disparity, we know a lot more about how fibromyalgia affects women.
Many studies are done with exclusively female participants and most doctors have a lot more practical experience with female fibromyalgia patients.
A lot of people, and even some doctors, erroneously think that men don’t get fibromyalgia. This can cause special problems for men who are living with it—both in getting a diagnosis and in finding support. Societal expectations and stereotypes of men pose their own problems as well.
One study suggested that fibromyalgia is under-diagnosed in general, and even more under-diagnosed in men. It was a relatively small study and it didn’t examine the reasons behind the under-diagnosis. But since the issue has received attention, it’s possible that we’ll now learn more about it.
Some research is beginning to suggest that men’s symptoms may be quite different than women’s. But this is an area that needs more research. One study, however, showed several differences in pain symptoms and that men tended to have:
- Lower reported pain intensity
- Lower tender-point count
- Lower depression rates
- Longer duration of symptoms when making the first complaint to a doctor
- Higher overall disability due to symptoms
Also, ongoing pain in men was especially linked to pressure-triggered hyperalgesia(amplified pain) in the neck. Future research will need to determine why men have a different symptom profile, but some physiological differences may be involved.
If you suspect you have fibromyalgia, bring it up to your doctor, as he or she may not consider it because they’re so accustomed to seeing it in women. If your doctor dismisses the idea based on your gender, you may need to be persistent about it or see another doctor.
Psychological and Social Impact
Our society has certain expectations of men and specific ideas about what it is to be masculine. Even in a two-income household, the man is often thought of as the primary breadwinner. Men are supposed to be hard-working, tough, and oblivious to pain.
Everyone with fibromyalgia faces the misconception that we’re crazy, lazy, or both. When a man has a debilitating pain condition, people may also view him as weak and think especially badly of him if he doesn’t have a job. He may view himself this way as well. (Women are not exempt from these issues, but men face them to a higher degree.)
Men with fibromyalgia report feeling like they’ve failed as a husband, father, and provider. It’s a huge blow to the ego to be knocked down with what’s sometimes considered a “women’s condition.” It’s important to remember that illness is notweakness. Instead, the ability to keep functioning at any level when you’re sick shows tremendous strength.
Also, remember that it’s not weakness to need mental health counseling to deal with these issues. It may help you overcome mental and emotional barriers to getting better.
Local support groups and online forums for fibromyalgia have always been dominated by women, which can make it hard for men to feel included and really understood. Several websites now offer information and support specifically for men, including Men With Fibro. You may also be able to find male-focused groups or pages on social networking sites.
However, you do share experiences—not to mention dozens of symptoms—with the other 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia.
You can learn a lot from them and teach them a lot, too.
Cairns BE, Gazerani P. Maturitas. 2009 Aug 20;63(4):292-6. Sex-related differences in pain.