Are gay men more prone to fibromyalgia than heterosexual men?

untitled” I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living”, Harvey Milk

The question I ask in the title is one that has intrigued me for several decades. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to this vexing issue. But, I would like to speculate about this for a wee bit as it is an unexplored area of research in the fibromyalgia domain.

Many research studies, from Sweden to the UK and the US, suggest that gay men’s brains are symmetrical to those of straight women. In particular, a Swedish study published in the National Academy of Sciences Journal suggests there is little dispute about this finding; although whether or not it is genetic, occurs in the womb, the result of sex hormones, or environmental factors remains controversial.

The studies have mainly focused on the similarities in the area of the brain responsible for storing emotions, such as anxiety. That area is called the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure found in each brain hemisphere. The amygdala directs the rest of the brain in response to emotional stimuli; that is, the ‘fight or flight’ stimuli (read other blogs where I discuss this in more detail). It is the part of the brain involved in ‘emotional learning’.

As these findings are becoming more common in the science community —that is, that gay men and straight women have similiar responses to such emotions as anxiety, and also likely a high degree of empathy—it seems to me, that I can make this postulate: Since I believe that fibromyalgia is the result of an overstimulated nervous system brought about by social (and subsequently physical) conditions of hypersensitive persons, mostly women, then it would follow that other marginalized groups would also be greatly susceptible to this condition, particularly those who have similar brain structures as women, that is, gay men. Obviously I cannot be certain of this claim, in particular since I have not heard from many gay men with fibromyalgia. However, the relationships I have just outlined lead me to consider, as I often do, the difficult lives that most gay men live in a homophobic society, especially if they are hypersensitive men, which can then predispose them to fibromyalgia. This also means that children, lesbians and heterosexual men who are highly sensitive are equally at risk for developing this condition. My main point here is the vexing question: are gay men more prone to fibromyalgia than heterosexual men?

I recently heard from a young gay man with fibromyalgia who relates his difficult life situation. Both his parents and those of his partner do not accept their relationship and are homophobic. After a car accident he developed fibromyalgia. His searches for help are numerous. Many of us have been there: naturopath, family physician, specialists of every kind, massage therapist… his list seems endless. Is he, like many of us, searching for someone who can cure us when in fact, the cause is primarily societal and political in nature and of course, biological, since pain is in the brain? These are the issues that distress me as I read sad fibromyalgia tales, but I refuse to live a life without hope because “without it, life is not worth living”.beforestonewall

30 Responses to “Are gay men more prone to fibromyalgia than heterosexual men?”

  1. Rev. Kurt says:

    I to have often wonder this. Being a gay man w/ fibro. I would like to hook up w/other gay men who have fibro for support and talk

    thanks
    Rev. kurt

  2. barbara keddy says:

    Dear Kurt: I hope that other gay men will respond to your request. Thanks for the comments!
    Best wshes,
    Barbara

  3. Doug says:

    I have suffered from Fibromyalgia for many years. My mother also suffers. Stress seems to be a common thread at least for me.

  4. barbara keddy says:

    Hi Doug: There is little doubt that stress accentuates fibromyalgia. It is also interesting to me when others say that a parent also has fibromyalgia. It seems that the way we were socialized when we were younger has a trememdous impact on us as adults. I wonder if your mother also had a highly sensitive parent? The gift that keeps on giving! My view is that the way society is organized impacts on those of us with fibromyalgia much harder if we are female, gay/lesbian, people of colour and other marginalized groups. That isn’t to say that children and highly senstivie heterosexual men aren’t also prone to fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue. Thank you so much for your comments.
    Barbara

  5. Rick says:

    I’m 24, gay, and have had fibro for over five years. I’ve always wondered the same thing about gay men and straight women and their predisposition to fibro, but I’ve never met another gay guy with it.

    There is no doubt in my mind that my fibro was triggered by a traumatic event in my life – and I find it cruelly ironic that the fibro has been millions of times more stressful than the actual event that probably triggered it.

    I hope one day I can find someone to love that I can relate to. It has been a long and torturous journey.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Rick. I am certain there are many gay guys with fibro who have chosen not to write comments here. I have had several respond to me privately.
    I often wonder if it really is one traumatic event that triggers fibro in the first place or if it is the accumulation of events just needing one last push into that devilish situation of a lifetime. BUT, there are ways of working with it, especially in one as young as you. Good luck and best wishes on that journey toward better health, Kind regards, Barbara

  7. Dave says:

    I am a gay man who was recently diagnosed (not formally, suspected to have???) fibromyalgia. I am relieved that fianlly there is something to blame for all this body malfunction. I was shocked this morning when my partner asked me if it wasn’t something just women get?? More disturbing was my mom this morning asked the same thing. I never paid attention to fibromyalgia, because it was a catch all disease that I thought doctors used when they couldn’t determine what was wrong with you! I was relieved to find this website to find out I am not more messed up than just being gay! I am 55 and have had R/arthritis for years, and thought the pain was from that, but kept getting more intense, and then developed into internal organs and really became uncomfortable to the point I am really suffering now.

  8. barbara keddy says:

    Dear Dave: Thank you so very much for your comments.You are NOT messed up from being gay or having fibromyalgia (if indeed you do have it). I realize how difficult it is living with chronic pain but I have never experienced homophobia so my thoughts go out to you.. a double whammy. It is others who are messed up if they can’t accept that you are gay and treat you with dignity and respect! It is reasonable to suspect that with R/arthritis, fibro will set in. It seems that with any kind of disease the nervous system becomes hyperaroused and since the arthritis is chronic the brain is always on alert, expecting the next bout of pain. Then the wires become like, as someone described to me, fuses in the main electric box firing off every which way! Do read what you can on the brain and pain. There is so much out there. PBS documentaries and now this week Campbell Brown on CNN interviewing some of the neuroscientists I have written about on my blogs regarding how to change the brain. I must admit though easier said than done. Oh, by the way fibromyalgia is NOT a disease, but a dis-ease as I discuss in my book!
    Best wishes, Barbara

  9. CP says:

    Hi all,

    I read this with some intrigue because I have noted that out of all the (very few) men that I know have fibromyalgia as I do all of them are gay. I myself am very happily married, but in the past did have lots of questions about my own sexuality, which I must admit at times I still do question, although I have never as yet acted upon these impulses, and I simply adore my wife. It’s possible that I have had fibro since I was 14 – I’m now 37 and it totally dominates my life. Some days are a struggle, others are easier. I was talking the other day to a friend about this, and so I am not surprised to see a possible correlation between sexuality and fibro.

  10. Dear CP: Thank you for your comments and your honesty. There is so much to learn about the brain, central sensitivities, empathy. Do you consider yourself a sensitive person? There is so much to unravel! If only the researchers would recognize it is NOT a disease and throw out that label! Best wishes and keep in touch! Regards, Barbara

  11. David says:

    I think it is too vast a generalization to say that gay men’s brains work the same way straight women’s do. How do the brains of more “feminine” straight males work? Or the “metrosexual” now whose sexuality is not easy to know off hand. I think then, one would have to ask, do more gay men get lupus, RA, MS etc…which more women than men develope. I do believe there is far more to these issues than one’s sexuality. I am a gay man and have fibro…but most men that I know of with it, are straight. Anyway, interesting topic.

  12. Hi David: You raise some interesting questions that have intrigued me as well. I believe that fibro is caused by an overstimualted nervous ssytem in people who are highly sensitive. Furthermore, I am more and more thinking one is born highly sensitive or this sensitivity develops in utero as the nervous system evolves from a highly sensitive mother! Then the nervous system has this propensity for becoming hyper aroused easily How’s that for going out on a limb? You are right…interesting topic. I think it is because of sensitivity, not brain composition from which FMS develops. I am willing to bet you are a highly sensitive man?! Thanks so much for your comments, Barbara

  13. Chris says:

    Hi gang,
    I have thought about this issue tremendously. I am a gay man that has both Lupus nd fibromyalgia. I’ve always thought that there exist connections between ones hormone levels and their propensity to developing autoimmune diseases. I’ve always thought that my estrogen levels were higher than the average male. The research that I have read has refutted the connection. I never thought about hypersensitivity or other neurological differences.

    I can’t wait to hear more.

  14. Thanks Chris. Living in a homophobic society can easily translate into living as a sensitive person. That kind of daily discrimination, subtle or overt, makes for a difficult childhood. Added to which your lupus, as a chronic condition has placed more stress on your central nervous system! I am appreciative of your comments and hopefully as I read more I will be able to better understand this connection (as will you, so please continue to share your thoughts) Best wishes, Barbara

  15. David Clawson, Ohio says:

    Hi all
    I suffer from fybromyagia and the pain is not just in the brain. Its all over the body. The nerve endings are effected the most. I live on paine killers and muscle relaxers. I’m a smoker. I had quit smoking and my pain increased because smoking kills the nerve endings. So I went back to smoking because I didnt want to take stronger pain killers. Fybro is very real in men as well as women. There is no cure. You have to change your life style to learn to deal with it. The Docters have not learned what causes it yet. Some Doctors still dont believe it even exists yet.

  16. Hi David: I agree that we FEEL pain all over the body but pain itself originates in the BRAIN! How to change the brain has been written about extensively but it certainly isn’t easy to do! I struggle with this every day.You are right that some doctors do not believe it actually exists but that is changing as the new pain and the brain research evolves. I believe that the incidence of men and fibro is underreported and that there are many, many men who have fibromyalgia. In my book I discuss how fibro is caused by people who have hyper-aroused nervous systems which are constantly in a state of over-stimulation so you have a good understanding of this already when you speak of ‘nerve endings’. Thank you for your comments! Keep in touch, Barbara

  17. Deb Elder says:

    Hello, I’m a lesbian with Fibro. I was injured in 1984 which caused the onset. I have been to a hundred doctors, tried many, many, many drugs. I believe in being an active advocate for myself and my care. Otherwise we will crawl into the corner & die. I’m going down with a fight. I expect my doctors to work together as a team in providing me care. I call Fibro, ‘Walking Riggormortis’, as our bodies will turn to stone while we walk around stiff ridden with pain. We are bitchy, angry, starved for quality information.

    Deb
    Oregon

  18. Hi Deb: Good analogy but why not reframe your brain to delete these negative messages (I know…not easy…my daily struggle too!) and begin to focus on the more positive ways we can establish new pathways that calm our hyper-aroused nervous systems? We are so lucky now to know that we do not have a disease, but a dis-ease of the nervous system which can be re-trained. It does take a great deal of discipline but for someone as young as you are easier than an oldie like me! Hard work! Good luck!
    B.

  19. Manuel Burnias says:

    Hello contributors of this link: I’m a gay man with fibromyalgia; i was diagnosed at the age of 19–i’m now 39 years old. It was foretoled by this neurologist that it would get progressively worse with age–it has! I have no doubt that perhaps this is strongly correlated with biological similarities between gay men and women in the brain. My response to stress is emotional more than physical–perhaps its the way the body manages to turn the emotional into physical in an effort to reach some kind of unknown equilibrium–who knows. Whatever the root cause it sucks! And im soooooo tired of this disease/syndrom. Glad to identify with others who are suffering like i am.

  20. Thanks for your comments Manuel. I agree; it seems not to get much better with aging! In fact, I agree too that stress is a huge factor. We have to find ways of changing the brain. I hope You receive responses to your comments as you seem to be right on target about understanding yourself and fibro. Best wishes, Barbara

  21. Todd says:

    Dear Barbara,

    I am wondering as of late, (Dec, 2011), who is the leader in Neuroscience?
    Specializing in..”Fibromyalgia in Gay Men”???
    Both pre- and post- mortem???
    If you could steer me into a direction it would be greatly appreciated!!!

    Thank you

  22. I honestly don’t know the answer to the question you posed, sorry Todd! I will explore the issue on line! Thanks for checking in,
    Best wishes, Barbara

  23. mountainman says:

    Thank you for this insiteful article. I truley believe you to bee right on target with your research. I have often wondered if being gay helped play a role in my fibro. i was alway a stong masculine man with no othe issues other then working hard/70 plus hours a week. The stress of my managment job coupled with the sstress at home with my partner and trying to hide it at work all came to a head and it went from a bad flu and soar throat to being fatigued and in pain all over it seemed. I finnally collapsed in the snow from the fatiuge and that was all they wrote about my life as i knew it. Please update me on any new findings in this direction. Thankyou in advance.

  24. Hi Mountainman:Please follow my blogs and thank you for your comments! Barbara

  25. Freddi says:

    Here is a facebook group for gay people with fibromyalgia and other invisible diseases! It has helped me a lot to connect there…

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/gaywithinvisiblediseases/

  26. John says:

    As a gay man with fibromyalgia I find this article fascinating! Dr. Jacob Tietelbaum who is a leader in CFS/Fibro research and treatment believes fibromyalgia is caused by the hypothalamas malfunctioning and interestingly enough studies show that gay mens hypothalamus is the same size as those of straight women, which is half the size of men. Lesbian and straight men on the other hand have a hypothalamus that is double. I think there may be a strong scientific connection and basis for this article.

  27. anned says:

    I am bi.

    I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia caused caused by a autoimmune disease

    the problem is research is showing that fibromyalgia may be small fiber polyneuopathy in a number of people with fibro.

    http://www.painresearchforum.org/news/33529-multiple-studies-one-conclusion-some-fibromyalgia-patients-show-peripheral-nerve.

    HIV/AIDs can also cause small fiber polyneuopathy

    Hepatitis and a number of other health disorders seen among gay and bi men can cause fibromyalgia/small fiber polyneuropathy.
    http://www.smallfiberneuropathy.net/top-5-causes-of-small-fiber-neuropathy/

  28. Thank you Anned. I will definitely research these issues,
    Regards,
    Barbara

  29. Thanks John: I agree with all you say. I appreciate your comments,
    Regards,
    Barbara

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