Does Fibromyalgia Differ Between Sexes?

by Wendy Walkiewicz, Assistant Editor, Fibromyalgia Network
Posted: April 26, 2012

The so-called “Battle of the Sexes” stretched into fibromyalgia research earlier this month, and it’s no surprise. Men, often under-represented in fibro research, are often thought to be less affected than the typical “over-emotional, over-exaggerated” women.  But, as expected, research shows this old sexist view is incorrect.

The overall impact of fibromyalgia symptoms were measured using validated tools in a recent investigation headed up by Virginia Aparicio, Ph.D., and her research team in Spain.1  Health status, physical function, overall well-being, work missed, work difficulty, pain, fatigue, morning tiredness, stiffness, anxiety, and depression were assessed. From these measurements, Aparicio was able to decipher how each gender is impacted by fibromyalgia.

Differing from most other fibro studies, this one contained a larger sample of 20 male and 79 female patients age-matched with similar characteristics. Using multiple procedures to match the men and women according to height, weight, and body mass index, Aparicio and her team aimed to take a closer look at the differences between the male and female quality of life and set of symptoms. So which faired better?

Perhaps neither. Women with fibromyalgia were found to have less vitality/more fatigue than men. This finding could imply that strength and energy are more dwindled in women, whose metabolic processes can be more demanding. Otherwise, it could mean fibromyalgia symptoms affect the female body in a different way than males.

On the other hand, fibromyalgia created more physical impairments in the men compared to the group of women. The overall impact of the condition was also harder on the men. This coincides with an earlier study conducted by Isabel Ruiz-Perez, M.D., also of Spain, who found, “Men with fibromyalgia had a worse perception of their health” and “more impact of the disease.”2

But the primary symptom of fibromyalgia is pain, although fatigue and physical function are certainly important. “Nevertheless,” says Aparicio, “concerning pain perception, gender differences appear to be low or nonexistent.”

So the question of whether men or women are more impacted by fibromyalgia remains to be determined. The female patients in Aparicio’s study displayed greater fatigue and morning tiredness. Yet it’s not as simple to interpret the study by saying men with fibro are more affected functionally, and women with fibro are more drained of energy. Each person is different, and summing up how one handles such a complex disease is not likely to be that simple.

While Aparicio’s study is still early research on gender differences in fibromyalgia, this study is of growing importance as doctors struggle to treat and monitor both male and female patients. Treatment plans require individual approaches. Men may need to work to aid their physical function, while women may need more focus on reducing the symptom of fatigue. It’s certainly research deserving of more attention.

1. Aparicio V, et al.  Am J Men’s Health [epub ahead of print] Apr 11, 2012.
2. Ruiz-Perez I, et al.  Rev Clin Esp 207:433-9, 2007.

If you are a man with fibro, there is a terrific site just for you:

15 Responses to Does Fibromyalgia Differ Between Sexes?

  1. James says:

    Thank you so much for passing this information along. It is a refreshing bit of news. I have fibromyalgis and agree that everyone has their own personal experience. Fibromyalgia happens to people. That is the only focus we need for reasearch and treatment. Thank you, again.

    • Bob says:

      Thanks for the clarification of this disorder. While I do get pain and stiffness, for me the biggest offender is fatigue. My activities were reduced by 75%. I get frustrated because people think it is only over all pain but it is much, much more than that.

  2. Mike says:

    Very interesting study. As a man in my 60s, I have had an increasing problem with fatigue and early morning energy problems. I was so relieved when I retired! Interestingly, I have always seen myself as being closer to women than most stereotypical males. Pain was worse when I was younger, but fatigue got increasingly overwhelming. When younger I could do a lot more tasks requiring strength.

  3. Steven says:

    It’s nice to see that some research is being done regarding men with this illness. I have had considerable difficulty with medical caregivers believing that I have this disease, even though it was properly diagnosed at a state-of-the-art research medical center after my PCP made the original diagnosis. At that time, men were virtually unheard of with this disease.

  4. john says:

    I agree thanks for the info , and James your right we all have our own personal experience with it . Im just wondering if the guys secse of bravodo would prevent us from “admiting ” how hard certin aspects of this syndrom really do affect us. I think it remains a still unanswered question when it comes right down to it. But im glad to see us guys are finally being included !!

  5. ronald Gregg says:

    I am a man with Fibromyalgia.I do have a few friends with Fibromyalgia and they are all female.This does not include a few men I chat with on FB. It seems that all of us have pretty much the same symptoms, but some are more severe in each individual person..The one symptom that most of the females friends have that I do not or very slightly is headaches and i will also have to add sore throat .

  6. dizzyduck says:

    Thank you so much for this, My husband has been suffering with similar sysmptons to mine, and I have been diagnosed with FMS, however my husband, they have said that because the type of job/profession that he is in, he is more likely to have these ached and pains and feel exhausted.

    It’s such a shame……It has taken years for professionals to accept that this is a disease.

  7. Flame2 says:

    Thanks for all your comments. Ive wondered if Ive passed fibro to my now adult sons. Did any of you in childhood have warning signs, such as recurrent headaches, digestive problems, many injuries, many viruses, visual oddities? Id really appreciate info.

    • Jan says:

      To Flame2, Yes, I experienced digestive problems, fatigue and frequent sore throats as a child. My two children do not exhibit symptoms.

  8. lakotasu says:

    I have fibromyalgia. I am also a board-certified pain management nurse. No matter what the source, a person’s response to pain, and especially chronic pain, is very complex. A person’s individual experience of pain is dependent on hundreds of factors, therefor gender is only part of a very intricate issue. This study is a start, but much more research is needed.

  9. Patrick says:

    I am a 38 yr old man who suffers from severe FMS , I have always felt different since my diagnosis but I will profess that I find most of my inspiration & motivation from my fellow female fibromites. Oh how I wish none of us had to live 24/7 with this demon of a condition …I do find it to be emasculating. I sleep in a recliner no more than 7-8 hours , takes me HOURS to shower & dress.

  10. fibrofriend says:

    I am so happy to hear that research is finally being done on males with fibromyalgia. I come from a family of 7 and of those 7 three of us suffer from fibro pain 24/7.My sister and I both have it and my father, who is now 72 has suffered from the pain of fibromyalgia for several years but was not properly diagnosed until I was, as it is “a dominantly female disease”. Thank God that’s changed.

  11. Wendy says:

    You go guys! Put the word out there that you are affected too!

  12. Timmmmae! says:

    I feel your pain!! hahahahaha but man it is hard to move in the morning afternoon and at night. The sleep thing, what is good sleep? Man its been more than 20 years since i have seen this even with sleep aids… people dont understand me at all. they smile and say wierdoooo. But they dont live in this body. The pain is real and i am not a woman and this effects every aspect of my life. Good luck!

  13. Jo-Anne says:

    Every woman suffers from fibro differently same as every man suffers diff than the others. What is real is the chronic pain that every single one of us suffers differently which regulates during the day if any whether it magnifies pain, elongates tiredness through lack of sleeps, whether we know of it until we awaken more drowsier than ever I empathise anyone suffers chronic pain.

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