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How Fibromyalgia Affects Men

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

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.

"Men [with fibromyalgia] often feel broken, even suicidal," says Gavin Levy, an Austin, Texas-based writer who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia four years ago, at age 33. "We've all been there. It feels like your masculinity has been taken away to a degree. You are a provider and protector, then suddenly that role is reversed."

The most important thing a man with fibromyalgia can do, Pellegrino emphasizes, is to get diagnosed. The sooner that happens, the sooner he can start treatment.

Living With Fibromyalgia

There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are medications that can help curb its symptoms. Equally important, though, are lifestyle changes. Exercising and eating well are essential, says Yunus.

"There is a clear relationship between overweight and pain and fatigue. Overweight is a risk factor for fibromyalgia," Yunus says. A recent study linked obesity and a greater chance of having fibromyalgia. That does not mean that everyone with fibromyalgia is overweight, or that extra pounds, by themselves, cause fibromyalgia.

Wold hits the treadmill for at least 10 to 15 minutes a day. He also does some light weightlifting to keep his strength up and his own weight down. He even gets out on the golf course once in a while, knowing that it will wear him out.

"When I'm done, it makes me feel better," he says. "It reminds me that a little of my old life is still there."

Reviewed on April 13, 2011

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