Fibromyalgia: Symptoms and Treatment

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder or neurochemical disease that causes aches all over the body. In addition to the widespread pain, people suffering from fibromyalgia have tender points that hurt upon light touch. Other common complaints include chronic fatigue, headache, sleep and mood issues, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Medical statistics show that fibromyalgia is more common in women than in men. Since only 10% of fibromyalgia patients are men, it is harder for men to get a proper diagnosis of this “invisible” disease. Why is the number of male sufferers so low, and what factors favor the appearance of this condition in men? Keep reading to find out!

Fibromyalgia Incidence, Causes, and Favoring Factors

Around 5 million people suffer from this disease in the United States alone. More than 80 percent of sufferers are women. However, medical studies suggest that about 1.5 – 2.5 million American males will develop this disorder at some point in their lives.

While researchers have yet to determine the root causes of this specific disorder, they have identified the following risk factors for developing fibromyalgia:

  • Genetics and hormones

  • Being overweight

  • Having a personal history of rheumatic disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus

  • Exposure to stress and traumas, such as repetitive body injuries, viral infections, illnesses, car accidents, or military service in conflict areas 

  • Having a family history of this particular disorder.

Common Symptoms of Fibromyalgia in Men

The symptoms of fibromyalgia are usually the same in both men and women. The only difference between the two patient categories is the intensity of the pain they perceive. Due to the presence of estrogen, which lowers their pain threshold, women usually perceive the pain as more intense. Their increased sensitivity to pain increases the chances for women to receive a correct diagnosis from the beginning.

Due to the fact that they perceive pain at a lower intensity, it is believed that men exhibit fewer and milder symptoms of fibromyalgia than women, and experience less fatigue and fewer tender points. In reality, symptoms in men range from mild and non-debilitating to severe and quite debilitating. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Pain and tenderness all over the body

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches or migraines

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Body stiffness in the morning

  • Impaired memory or cognitive problems, or in other words brain fog 

  • Irritable bowel syndrome 

  • Increased sensitivity to light and noise

  • Depression

Since some men experience only mild fibromyalgia symptoms that resemble the symptoms of other disorders, they may wait quite a long period before deciding when it is time for them to see a doctor. Nevertheless, a man experiencing fibromyalgia symptoms for at least three months should seek medical help and treatment.

Since some of the symptoms also occur in other disorders, it takes a doctor’s professional exam to rule out other medical conditions. Men suffering from fibromyalgia should also seek medical care if they notice any change or aggravation of their symptoms.

How to Diagnose Fibromyalgia

The sad truth is that men with fibromyalgia still have a hard time trying to convince doctors of the seriousness of their physical condition. Because people still think that fibromyalgia is a woman’s disease, men with this disorder will often receive the label of being lazy or whiners.

However, doctors who are familiar with the disease can diagnose it based on two main criteria:

  • If the male patient has experienced widespread pain for at least 3 months in a row. This pain must occur on both sides of the body, both above and below the waist.

  • If the male patient has at least 11 tender points all over his body. A point is tender when the patient feels pressure upon touch.

Throughout the last decade, marked by the economic crisis, when jobs were scarce and expenses were high, many men kept their suffering a secret, fearing that they could lose their jobs. However, physical labor aggravates the pain fibromyalgia causes, so men suffering from this disease should notify their employer, especially since the symptoms could influence their ability to handle heavy machinery or drive on long distances.

Main Fibromyalgia Treatment Options Explained

Treating fibromyalgia can be challenging since there is no universal cure. The available medication helps alleviate symptoms and improve sleep quality, reducing the feeling of fatigue. In severe cases, a team approach is more effective. The team usually includes a physical therapist, a doctor, and other health professionals if the patient suffers from sleep disorders, gastroenterological, neurological, psychiatric problems, etc.

Those who suspect they suffer from fibromyalgia could find it easier to get an accurate diagnosis in a rheumatology or pain clinic. The combined experience of the staff in these healthcare centers can really help sufferers improve the quality of their lives.

A fibromyalgia treatment plan usually includes:

  • Certain antidepressants, such as milnacipran and duloxetine, meant to reduce reactions to pain and improve sleep quality

  • An anti-opioid called Naltrexone

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, to ease the muscle pain

  • Anti-seizure medication used in the treatment of epilepsy when painkillers are ineffective

  • Neuropathic pain medication, such as pregabalin, to treat chronic pain caused by nervous system damages

  • Narcotic drugs for severe muscle pains, prescribed for short time periods, to avoid addiction.

Self-care activities are very important in the treatment of fibromyalgia as well. They minimize the impact of this disorder on men’s lives. The most important lifestyle changes that can help male patients with fibromyalgia improve the quality of their life include:

  • Exercising – Although in the beginning, exercising can increase pain, over time, it will increase overall mobility, reduce pain, and improve one’s mood. Research shows beyond doubt that regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to cope with fibromyalgia.

  • Eating well – A balanced, healthy diet can support overall health and boost energy levels, thus alleviating fibromyalgia symptoms.

  • Stress management – Because of the pain they feel constantly, men with fibromyalgia need to find efficient ways to deal with stress. Some of the most effective stress relievers are yoga, meditation, physical exercise, and declining unnecessary tasks.

  • Getting enough sleep – Getting enough restful sleep can help reduce the fatigue and pain associated with fibromyalgia. Men should set and follow a strict sleep routine. This may mean avoiding caffeine in the evening and daytime naps and doing something relaxing before going to bed.

  • Knowing one’s limits – Men with fibromyalgia often try to ignore the symptoms and continue working hard. Unfortunately, this can seriously worsen their physical condition. From cutting the number of daily working hours to switching to an easier job, there are plenty of ways to adapt the work environment to one’s possibilities and limitations.

  • Asking for professional help – Men will often have a hard time acknowledging they experience physical pain or depression episodes. Asking for family support and medical help from doctors or therapists is the natural way to deal with this medical condition.

  • Keeping up with research on fibromyalgia – The modern research on fibromyalgia ranges from laboratory work to studies of interventions and medications intended to alleviate symptoms. Some of the most promising research on the subject focuses on understanding pain and improving symptoms.

Understanding pain

As research has revealed, the difficulty of coping with fibromyalgia depends on the way the sufferer’s body processes pain. To understand what makes people with fibromyalgia hypersensitive to pain, ongoing studies focus on:

  • Imagining methods for comparing the way in which the central nervous system responds to pain in patients with fibromyalgia and in patients with other chronic pain disorders
  • Evaluation of twins, one of which experiences widespread pain and the other doesn’t, in parallel with twins who don’t experience chronic pain
  • Examining the application of behavioral therapy on fibrositis patients, in order to determine the function of physiological factors in dealing with chronic pain.

Improving symptoms

The efforts of improving fibromyalgia symptoms focus on:

  • Examining the relation between increased physical activity throughout the day and the alleviation of fibromyalgia symptoms, such as fatigue, pain, or tenderness (for example, some clinical tries look at the effectiveness of simple Tai-Chi exercises on pain, sleep quality, anxiety, fatigue, or depression).

  • Investigating new ways to improve sleep quality for fibromyalgia patients who do not respond to the usual medication for sleep disturbances.

  • Examining the link between sleep problems and chronic pain, and trying to determine whether the behavioral treatment for insomnia can improve fibromyalgia symptoms.


Even though fibrositis cannot yet be cured, it can definitely be treated to the point where patients feel better than before. To cope with fibromyalgia to the best of their abilities, men should know all there is to know about this disorder. They should not be afraid to seek help from doctors and support from their family and friends, to start adapting their lifestyles to this new challenge.

Summing up the advice in the previous sections, men with fibromyalgia should eat healthier diets, exercise more, stress less, sleep better, learn to relax, know, and respect their physical limitations. This way, their body will cope easier with pain, and they will be able to live normal lives.

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