When Zane K. suspected he had fibromyalgia, he mentioned it to his doctor. The response: “He laughed,” Zane recalled in a Facebook post, “and said it was a women’s syndrome.” He had to find a new doctor, endure months of tests, and get a recommendation to see a rheumatologist before he was finally diagnosed with the condition.
Creaky Joints member Carl H. had a similar experience: At 38, he felt exhausted and in constant pain. “Getting the doctors to admit I had fibromyalgia was very hard work,” he shared in a post. “I thought I was going mad and it was all in my head.”
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues. It’s one of the most common chronic pain conditions, affecting about 4 million adults in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The National Fibromyalgia Association estimates that number to be higher, around 10 million.)
It’s also one the most misunderstood, particularly for men. Some estimates say up to 90 percent of fibro patients are women, and therefore as few as 10 percent are men. That’s why fibromyalgia is often thought of as a disorder that almost exclusively affects women.
While it’s true that fibromyalgia is more common in women, recent studies suggest the disparity may not be so great as previously thought. Research indicates that the prevalence of fibromyalgia is actually similar among males and females — it’s just that males are much less likely than females to identify symptoms and be diagnosed with the condition. And survey results published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research found 20 times more men reported fibromyalgia symptoms than had been diagnosed, compared to three times more women.
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