Fibromyalgia is a disorder marked by widespread pain in the muscles and bones. Other common symptoms include fatigue, sleep problems, and mood issues.
The disorder affects many more women than men. Because fibromyalgia is much more common in women, it may be harder for men with fibromyalgia to get properly diagnosed.
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Who does fibromyalgia affect?
Fibromyalgia affects roughly 2 to 8 percent of the United States population. Although 80 to 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia are women, men of all ages may have fibromyalgia as well. In fact, up to 1.5 million men in the U.S. may currently have fibromyalgia, and many more will experience it in their lifetime.
Some people are at higher risk of developing fibromyalgia than others. As well as gender, other risk factors for developing fibromyalgia include the following:
- A personal history of other rheumatic diseases including lupus
- A history of mood or depressive disorders
- A family history of fibromyalgia
Symptoms of fibromyalgia in men
Symptoms of fibromyalgia in men may include depression and fatigue.
A man's fibromyalgia symptoms may be very different from the symptoms experienced by a woman.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia in men may be as widespread as they are in women, but they are often milder and last for less time.
Although they may be milder in men, fibromyalgia symptoms can still range from mild to severe and debilitating. Symptoms will vary from person to person and can include:
- Pain and tenderness
- Morning stiffness
- Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms
- Brain fog
In order to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, these symptoms must last for 3 months.
When to see a doctor
Because fibromyalgia symptoms can be so similar to symptoms of other disorders and may be mild, it can be difficult for a man to know when to see a doctor.
However, a man who experiences fibromyalgia symptoms should seek medical treatment. Some fibromyalgia symptoms may also occur in other disorders, so it is important for a doctor to rule out other serious conditions. Men who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia should seek medical care if their symptoms worsen or change.
Diagnosing fibromyalgia in men
In order to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a man must experience widespread pain for more than 3 months. This pain must have no known medical cause.
There are no lab tests to diagnose fibromyalgia, but a doctor may do blood tests and imaging to rule out other causes.
A man living with fibromyalgia may find it difficult to get a diagnosis. Fibromyalgia symptoms occur in a number of diseases and disorders that doctors will need to rule out. Some doctors may think of fibromyalgia as a woman's condition and not consider fibromyalgia in a man as a viable diagnosis.
Also, many men with fibromyalgia may not be reporting their symptoms to their doctors. Because men are taught through socializing to suppress their feelings of pain unless the pain is quite severe, a man may ignore it for years or not ask for help if it is needed.
Treatment and outlook
Lifestyle changes such as eating healthily and exercising may help alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia in men.
Treating fibromyalgia includes a mix of medications and self-care. There is no treatment that will cure fibromyalgia or treat all of its possible symptoms.
Medication can, however, help relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia and improve sleep, thus reducing fatigue. Treatment with medication may include:
- Antidepressants. Certain antidepressants can help lessen pain reactions and improve sleep quality.
- Antiseizure medications. Medications used to treat epilepsy may help relieve and reduce pain.
- An anti-opioid called Naltrexone has been shown in a few small studies to be helpful.
- Pain medications. There is not any evidence that these are helpful and very strong ones such as opioids should be avoided because of the high risk of dependency.
Self-care is an important part of fibromyalgia treatment. Men with fibromyalgia need to actively take part in their self-care despite any perceived stigmas associated with certain self-care activities.
Lifestyle changes that can help men with fibromyalgia care for themselves include the following:
- Getting enough sleep. Fibromyalgia causes fatigue. To help manage symptoms, it is very important to allow ample time for sleep and rest.
- Exercising. Though exercise can increase pain at first, over time exercising will decrease pain and increase mobility. Exercise can also help to raise mood.
- Eating a healthy diet. A healthy diet can support overall health, which will lessen fibromyalgia symptoms.
- Managing stress. People with fibromyalgia need to find ways to deal with their stress. Stress relievers include meditation, exercise, and saying no to unnecessary tasks. Therapy can also be very beneficial.
- Recognizing limits. Men with fibromyalgia may be tempted to do too much, which can worsen symptoms.
- Asking for help. Many men are afraid that admitting to physical pain or depression associated with fibromyalgia will not appear manly. Asking for help from family, medical professionals, or therapists is encouraged.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition. It is widely thought that men suffering from fibromyalgia may have milder symptoms that last for a shorter duration than women. However, some doctors believe that men with fibromyalgia may still experience severe and debilitating episodes of pain.
Because fibromyalgia is fairly uncommon in men, it may be harder for men with more severe fibromyalgia to make proper accommodations and receive any disability benefits. With proper treatment and lifestyle modifications, men with fibromyalgia can manage the condition.