Men Get Fibromyalgia Too

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Mark Maginn had excruciating pain all over his back, hips, and neck for 15 years before a doctor finally gave his problem a name—fibromyalgia. "I was fully prepared to live my life in excruciating pain," says Maginn, 61, a former psychotherapist living in San Francisco. "I was relieved that there was a diagnosis, but it's more than a little disconcerting [when] you realize you've got this thing that's going to be with you forever."

Fibromyalgia can take years to diagnose—three to five years on average—but Maginn's situation may have been complicated by that fact that he's a man. Fibromyalgia is diagnosed in 2% to 4% of the population but is about nine times more common in women than men.

The lower numbers mean that doctors are less likely to consider the diagnosis in the first place, and, what's more, fibromyalgia may look slightly different in men than women. The condition may be milder in men, who may also have fewer symptoms. Some research has suggested that men tend to have less frequent flare-ups of their symptoms, which also are likely to last for shorter periods of time.

However, one Israeli study found that men with fibromyalgia actually had more severe symptoms, decreased physical function, and lower quality of life than women the same age with fibromyalgia.

Maginn, a volunteer advocate for the American Pain Foundation, has been able to tame about 60% to 70% of his symptoms with the help of the drug Lyrica, although he says he still has "days when [that pain] is so lousy that even the drug doesn't have any effect on it."

Part of the reason men are less likely to be diagnosed may be due to deeply ingrained social norms that teach men to hide their feelings, making them less likely to seek help for something that could be viewed as a weakness, like body pain.

"Doctors need to question their male patients about pain to get their patients to talk, [because we] are sometimes reluctant to talk about it," says Maginn.

Unfortunately, fibromyalgia still has a serious credibility problem. Even if men are willing to talk, not all doctors believe what they are hearing. "When people can't see what the trouble is, they have a tendency not to believe in the trouble," says Maginn. "Pain is invisible."

Doctors both before and after Maginn's diagnosis doubted his fibromyalgia was real, he says. "I had one doctor suggest that I see a psychotherapist or psychiatrist because the pain was probably all in my head. That infuriated me."

He's certainly not alone. In a 2007 survey, more than 25% of the 2,000 fibromyalgia patients questioned reported that their doctors did not view fibromyalgia as a "very legitimate" disorder. For Maginn, this process grew frustrating, as he continued to meet with doctors who didn't believe him enough to look for answers. "It didn't prevent me from seeking out help, but it made the search for help more fraught with difficulty," he says. "If I had been somebody [else], I could see where I would have just given up trying to work with doctors."

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Lead writer: Sarah Klein
Last Updated: March 26, 2010

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