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Meeting Fibromyalgia Gender Bias Head On

  [ 4 votes ]   [ 2 Comments ]
By Celeste Cooper • • May 8, 2013

Reprinted with the kind permission of Celeste Cooper.

Women, Men, Autoimmune, Neurological disease, and Fibromyalgia:
Meeting Gender Bias Head On

The women to men ratio affected by fibromyalgia are 7:1 or 8:1, but are these statistics accurate?  
We once thought more men were affected by heart disease than women and we now know that is not the case, and even more alarming, women’s heart attacks are twice as likely to be fatal. So we ask, “Why the disparity in diseases between male and female?”  And an even bigger question, “Why are we not paying closer attention?”
Statistically, fibromyalgia is a leading female syndrome, and therefore, few studies are done on men.  Men typically do not report their symptoms, do not receive the right emotional support (though women many times don’t either), and suffer gender bias, leaving them undiagnosed and untreated. Females dominate other autoimmune and neurological diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), scleroderma, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraine, and multiple sclerosis. This by no means suggests that men do not also have any one of these syndromes or diseases.  So I ask,  “Why are men so frequently left out when evaluating fibromyalgia?” 
Since women seem predisposed to neuro-endocrine-immune disorders, their is a theory that hormones play a role. However, ankylosing spondylitis (another autoimmune disease) affects more men than women, so that theory is purely speculative, in my opinion. 
Men are more likely to keep their symptoms to themselves. Many do not understand the co-occurrence of myofascial pain syndrome and that it can cause male related issues, such as impotence, testicular pain, and male pelvic dysfunction, which men are less likely to discuss with their doctor than women, and are often overlooked on exam for both men and women.  
Historically men avoid seeking healthcare, because of the long tradition that one should “buck up” and “take their lumps,” which could be a factor in under diagnosis.  Personally, my own husband would be dead had it not been for my insistence that I accompany him to the doctor to report his symptoms, which he wanted to dismiss as GERD and a pulled muscle. 
It is my opinion that more men are affected by fibromyalgia than what the statistics show, because of the factors I just mentioned, and I believe that men are not represented in proportionate numbers in clinical trials.  Like studying women in heart disease separate from men, the same should be true for fibromyalgia.  Women do tend to have a greater affinity toward autoimmune diseases, but believe me, if you are a man and suffer with fibromyalgia, MS, migraine, disordered sleep, restless leg syndrome, or any of the other overlapping neuro-endocrine-immune disorders, it is just as real. 
Gender bias must hit the road, it is immoral, counterproductive, and unethical for men and women. 

Source: Sharecare, January 23, 2013.


About the author: Celeste Cooper is the author of Broken Body, Wounded Spirit, Balancing the See Saw of Chronic Pain, Fall Devotions and Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain: The Mind-Body Connection. (Jeff Miller, PhD co-authored both books.)

Celeste is a retired registered nurse, who cared for patients and mentored others for more than 20 years. She
was board certified in emergency nursing and practiced as director of hospital-wide clinical education, writing and implementing continuing education programs, until her own illness brought her ambitions to an abrupt halt. She has experienced personal struggles, trials, setbacks, and successes as a result of that illness, and continues to advocate for education, change, awareness, and research. Her goal is to share ways to overcome obstacles and turn “road blocks” into a "road trip" full of opportunities.

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Article Comments Post a Comment

gender bias
Posted by: IanH
May 8, 2013
While I agree that there is a gender bias in ME/CFS and FM there is no way that a man with ME/CFS could go un-noticed or could continue working effectively. I think much the same is true for FM. However bothe ME/CFS and FM are very mis-diagnosed, especially in women.

Doctors tend to apply different labels to men and women.
Many men get labelled with "burn-out", much more so than women, about 80:20.

I also believe that when some men do suffer from FM or even milder ME/CFS they are just thought of as lazy, no-hopers and couch potatoes. I know of several cases of men who are thought lazy but I know they have ME/CFS in milder form, each of them suffering from PEM.
Reply Reply

Gender differences in musculature alter the ways FMS is expressed.
Posted by: IanPatto
May 8, 2013
Men generally have larger muscles than women. They also recover more quickly from muscle damage than women. I experienced FMS for several months following the start of my CFS, so I understand what my wife experiences with her chronically-debilitating FMS. But my muscles recovered their strength and the pain subsided. That extreme sensitivity to skin pressure also disappeared.
Although I do not advocate that tetosterone should be given to aging women who most commonly suffer the most pain, it would be interesting to hear from those who for other reasons have been dosed with testosterone. Does male hormone significantly alleviate the symptoms of FMS?
Reply Reply
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