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Fibromyalgia Health Center

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How Fibromyalgia Affects Men

Men With Fibromyalgia Talk About Their Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Dealing With Other People's Reactions

Fibromyalgia Rarer Among Men continued...

"There are genes that make people more susceptible to pain, and some are related to gender," he says. "And women are more susceptible to pain because estrogen reduces the pain threshold."

That heightened sensitivity to pain may give women higher odds of getting a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

A common test that doctors perform is to apply a fixed amount of pressure to what are called "tender points": 18 specific points on the body, designated by the American College of Rheumatology, where even a light touch can cause pain.

At least 11 of those spots must produce a significant pain response in order to merit a diagnosis. But because men have a higher threshold for pain, they often don't meet the criteria.

"Women seem literally more tender than men," Yunus says.

How Fibromyalgia Affects Men

Chronic pain may be its chief symptom, but fibromyalgia sometimes comes with additional complications. Chronic fatigue and difficulty sleeping are common complaints, as are headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and restless legs syndrome. Memory problems and difficulty concentrating often come with the territory as well.

In general, Yunus says, men have fewer symptoms than women. They tend to have less from fatigue and they have pain in fewer places. "It's much less common for men to hurt all over," Yunus says. "But in many ways, men are more affected, more bothered by fibromyalgia."

The reason for that may be more sociological than biological.

Undiagnosed Cases

"Men don't come to the doctor nearly as much as women," says Michael J. Pellegrino, MD, a fibromyalgia expert at Ohio Pain and Rehab Specialists and an expert on WebMD's Fibromyalgia Exchange. "Why? Gender stereotypes."

"Men tell themselves, ‘I'm not supposed to go to the doctor, I'm not supposed to complain.' So a lot of the men I see, their wives make them come," says Pellegrino, who estimates that up to 20% of men with the disorder are undiagnosed.

The longer men put off seeing the doctor, the more they put themselves at risk of developing complications that can affect their work, their hobbies, their relationships. Pellegrino, who has fibromyalgia himself, says that depression is not uncommon among men who have delayed getting a diagnosis.

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