What to know about fibromyalgia in men

Fibromyalgia is a disorder marked by widespread pain in the muscles and bones, sleep problems, fatigue, and mood disorders. Doctors believe it may affect many more women than men, but when men have the disorder, they may experience unique problems.

Science has not produced much research on men with fibromyalgia, and estimates of the number of men vs. women with the disease vary widely.

The National Fibromyalgia Association say that a 2001 review of the literature found the ratio was nine women to every one man with the disease.

Elsewhere, self-help groups have put the figure at one man for every eight women with the condition or higher. These groups leave the possibility open that 30 percent of people who experience fibromyalgia might be male.

Due to the leaning towards fibromyalgia as predominantly a female condition, it may be harder for men to receive a fibromyalgia diagnosis, even though some experts believe up to 1.5 million men in the United States may have the condition.

In this article, we explain how people can recognize the signs of fibromyalgia in men, and how they should manage the symptoms when they occur.

Risk factors

fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia may have a higher prevalence than doctors previously thought.

Fibromyalgia affects roughly 2 percent of the adult population in the U.S.

This is equivalent to some 4 million individuals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some people are at higher risk of developing fibromyalgia than others. Gender is the main risk factor, with others including:

  • a personal history of rheumatic diseases, including lupus
  • a history of mood or depressive disorders
  • a family history of fibromyalgia among close relatives

Symptoms

Fibromyalgia symptoms may appear differently in men than in women. People have always considered fibromyalgia symptoms to be milder in men than in women.

In reality, they may be as widespread in both genders, and recent studies indicate that the severity of symptoms may be the same in all people.

A 2017 report says that men may be less likely to consult a doctor than women. They may also feel stigmatized as “wimpy,” “whiney,” or “lazy,” when they complain of fibromyalgia symptoms, such as tiredness and muscle pains.

The report’s author says that remaining undiagnosed may make disability claims from employers harder for men to access than women.

Also, the impact of less available support may impact a family if a man rather than a woman is a primary income provider.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia in men can range from mild to debilitating. They may vary from person-to-person and can include:

  • pain and tenderness
  • fatigue
  • morning muscle stiffness
  • irritable bowel symptoms
  • brain fog
  • headache
  • depression

When to see a doctor

Fibromyalgia symptoms can be similar to the symptoms of other conditions. If the symptoms are not severe, it can be hard to know when to see a doctor.

If a man thinks he may have the symptoms of fibromyalgia, he should seek medical advice, to rule out other conditions.

If the symptoms worsen or change, it is also a good idea to tell the physician as they may wish to change the treatment.

Diagnosis

Doctor consults patient

It may be difficult for a man to receive a fibromyalgia diagnosis.

To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a person must experience widespread pain for more than 3 months. The pain must have no other known medical cause.

A man living with fibromyalgia may find it difficult to get a diagnosis, as doctors must first rule out other conditions that have similar signs.

There are no lab tests to diagnose fibromyalgia, but a doctor may do blood tests and imaging to eliminate other possibilities.

Some doctors incorrectly think of fibromyalgia as a “female” condition, and they may be reluctant to diagnose it in men.

Treatment and outlook

Treating fibromyalgia includes a mix of medication and self-care.

Fibromyalgia is not completely curable. However, a person can relieve many of the symptoms that occur.

Medication can also improve sleep problems and reduce fatigue, both of which are common in people with fibromyalgia.

Medications

Treatment with medication may include:

  • Antidepressants: Certain antidepressants can help lessen pain reactions and improve sleep quality.
  • Antiseizure medications: Drugs used to treat epilepsy may help relieve and reduce pain.
  • Naltrexone: An anti-opioid called naltrexone may help relieve pain when people use it in small doses.

There is no evidence to support the action of painkillers on fibromyalgia symptoms. People should avoid strong pain relievers, such as opioids, as they have a high risk of dependency.

Self-care

Self-care is an essential part of fibromyalgia treatment. Men with fibromyalgia need to engage with self-care actively.

Certain lifestyle changes can help men with fibromyalgia improve symptoms, including:

  • Getting enough sleep: Fibromyalgia causes fatigue. It is vital that people allow ample time for sleep and rest so they can manage their symptoms.
  • Exercising: Though exercise can be painful at first, physical activity will decrease pain and increase mobility over time. Exercise can also help improve mood.
  • Eating a healthful diet: A balanced, nutritious diet can support overall health, which will reduce fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Managing stress: People with fibromyalgia need to find ways to manage stress. Stress relievers include meditation, exercise, and saying ‘no’ to unnecessary tasks. A person may benefit from therapy too.
  • Recognizing limits: Men with fibromyalgia may overexert themselves, which can worsen symptoms.

Takeaway

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition. People often believe that men experiencing fibromyalgia have milder symptoms that last for less time than women, and that men experience the condition extremely rarely.

However, the condition may be more prevalent in men than doctors formerly believed.

Men with fibromyalgia may still experience severe and debilitating episodes of pain, fatigue, and psychological effects, including confusion and depression.

While there is no full cure for the condition, men with fibromyalgia can manage symptoms and lead a full life with appropriate treatment and lifestyle modifications.

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