What to Know About Fibromyalgia in Men
Fibromyalgia is often considered a condition that affects women, but what about the men out there? Some research suggests that there are more men out there with fibromyalgia, but the condition is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Read on for more information surrounding fibromyalgia symptoms in men.
A Quick Overview of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes increased sensitivity to pain and tenderness throughout the body. The body processes and responds to pain differently in fibromyalgia patients than in people without fibromyalgia. It’s a poorly understood syndrome with an unidentified cause that is difficult to diagnose, partially because there is no specific diagnostic test for fibromyalgia. With proper treatment, fibromyalgia symptoms can be managed and minimized.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
There are symptoms that both men and women experience with fibromyalgia:
- Widespread pain throughout the entire body
- Intense response to tender point activation
- Muscle and/or joint stiffness
- Fatigue that ranges from moderate to severe
- Headaches and migraines
- Difficulty sleeping
- Tingling sensation in the hands and feet
- Concentration and memory issues
- Pain in the face and jaw
- Digestive issues including abdominal pain, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation
- Depression and anxiety
How Symptoms in Men Differ From Symptoms in Women
In general, men and women experience the same types of symptoms with fibromyalgia, however, they experience these symptoms at varying degrees of pain and prominence. There is not a lot of research available offering a general consensus about males’ symptoms. Some studies indicate that men report few and milder symptoms with fibromyalgia than women, and contradicting studies that show that men have more severe symptoms than women. The overall trend that seems to emerge is that men experience worse sleep and more stress, while women tend to complain more about physical pain.
Which Symptoms Are Specific to Men?
There do not appear to be fibromyalgia symptoms reserved solely for men, but there are certain symptoms that are more prominent in males. Studies show that men report a heavy impact on their mental wellbeing and mood, increased physical limitations/lack of mobility, fatigue and sleep issues, and report a lower quality of life as a result of their fibromyalgia.
A counter to these claims in the research is that men may be downplaying the physical pain due to the social stigma of fibromyalgia being considered a women’s condition.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
A direct cause of fibromyalgia has not been determined; it would make a diagnosis much easier if there was a definitive cause. What we do know is that those with fibromyalgia have a heightened response with pain signal processing in the central nervous system. Fibromyalgia triggers and the cause of pain flare-ups are different for everyone, which further shows how broadly defined this condition can be.
There are some possible causes of fibromyalgia which can be linked to:
- Genetics. Research indicates that fibromyalgia may be an inherited condition.
- Sex. A fibromyalgia diagnosis is more common in women, which leads to the conclusion that more women have fibromyalgia than men.
- Emotional or physical abuse. Following abuse, the brain changes how it processes and handles pain and stress.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is linked to cases of fibromyalgia.
- Physical fitness. Fibromyalgia is more common in those who do not get enough exercise.
When people talk about fibromyalgia pain, they may use the terms tender points and trigger points, but what is the difference between the two?
Fibromyalgia Treatment for Men
Treatment for fibromyalgia is generally the same for men and women. Treatment options include:
Some options are prescription while others are available over the counter. Medications include muscle relaxants, specific antidepressants, anti-seizure medication and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
This type of talk therapy helps patients alter the way they think or act in order to find a constructive way of dealing with their fibromyalgia and the underlying depression that may come with it. Men may find this useful to address the impacts of fibromyalgia on their mental health.
Join a Support Group for Men
As fibromyalgia tends to skew toward being a health condition for women, finding a male support group will help you connect with others who share your experience. Members in these groups help each other out, offer solutions that work for them, and enables them to talk about their fibromyalgia with people who understand what they are going through.
These techniques can include meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture, biofeedback, float tanks, and more. Try as many of these types of activities as possible to help you find what works to minimize your stress.
Get More Sleep
More sleep is not the entire solution; quality of sleep and better overall sleep habits can make a difference for men who experience worse sleep as a result of fibromyalgia. Your doctor may be able to recommend a sleep specialist to help get your sleep back on track.
While working out seems counter-intuitive when your body suffers from pain, aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening are an important component of helping you feel a bit better. Physical activity helps your body feel stronger and may reduce some pain, but exercise also releases feel-good hormones to help your mental state and will exhaust you a bit more—hopefully helping you sleep better too.
For any men with widespread body pain who do not have a diagnosis, ask your doctor about whether it could be fibromyalgia. Some doctors may be less likely to offer a fibromyalgia diagnosis based on the presumption that fibromyalgia is commonly a condition that affects women. Getting a proper diagnosis for your symptoms is the first step to feeling a bit better.