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”.

37 thoughts on “Are gay men more prone to fibromyalgia than heterosexual men?

  1. Rev. Kurt

    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

    Rev. kurt

  2. barbara keddy

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

  3. Doug

    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

    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.

  5. Rick

    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. Barbara Keddy Post author

    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

    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

    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

    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. Barbara Keddy Post author

    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

    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. Barbara Keddy Post author

    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

    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. Barbara Keddy Post author

    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

    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. Barbara Keddy Post author

    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

    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.


  18. Barbara Keddy Post author

    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!

  19. Manuel Burnias

    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. Barbara Keddy Post author

    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

    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. Barbara Keddy Post author

    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

    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. John

    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.

  25. anned

    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.

    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.

  26. Robert

    I have lupus no fibro ….yet. I have a good doctor where i live, I still cannot figure out what triggered it.Thank you for your article. It will help me talk with my RA about it more.

  27. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Hi Robert: Just because you have lupus does not mean you will have fibromyalgia. What makes you think you might be prone to it?
    Thanks for you comment and good luck with finding out more info in that regard,

  28. Jeff

    I am 51 and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia ten years ago but I can identify the onset back in my late twenties but just thought the flu like symptoms and leg pain were do to how hard I always worked as well as working out at a gym extensively back then. I believe I was born gay as I knew I was different than everyone else at age 5. I lived with a mask on until I divorced my wife in my mid twenties. I was also involved in a severe car accident causing a major concussion. After that I developed major depression at 19 and anxiety but always thought it was due to being gay as well as the accident possibly creating a problem my brain.

    After my divorce I got into a 17 year long partnership however it was a stressful relationship as he was an alcoholic and abusive to me physically and verbally. I also wondered if I could have developed fibromyalgia from the blows to my head several times.

    I just had my second cervical surgery. Between my so-called chronic neck pain and my fibromyalgia I am in so much pain daily and nightly. I am never out of pain even with the morphine I take daily.

    I have seen every type of doctor and every type of therapy with no relief.

    I feel no one believes my pain level and have been fighting for ssdi for over four years now.

    I live at my parents place. I sleep around 10-12 hrs and when I am up I sit in a recliner the rest of the time.

    Since my second surgery in December on my neck, my neck pain is constant and has intensified so much.

    I don’t know what to do anymore.

    And yes I am suicidal part of the time and yes I see a therapist but it doesn’t relieve my feelings as I am in hole without friends or any positive interaction.

    I live on food stamps and $100 that my parents give me monthly.

    I miss not working. I was quite good but after my first neck surgery I couldn’t go back and do my job without major pain.

    I have two BA’s in Managment and Accounting. So I am not stupid or lazy. I started earning money at age 7 and started paying taxes when I was 14. I worked because I wanted to not because I had to at that age. I had goals and I achieved my goals.

    Now without money I live in a hole.

  29. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Jeff:
    Your letter is a very sad one. It seems as though misfortune is haunting you right now. I certainly believe that all your past trauma has impacted on your physical and mental challenges. I wish I could wave a magic wand and erase those memories of abuse and that the current state of your financial challenges would be eliminated. Other than the usual mild exercise, sensible eating, meditation and or yoga/chi gong in our daily regime I cannot think of any other solutions. It seems trite to say that the only ones who can help us through these daily impediments is ourselves but it seems as though that is all there is.
    Please know I am thinking of you and wishing you well.
    Kind regards,

  30. xixie

    Lesbian here, who found this site by typing “is there a link between being LBGT and having fibromyalgia?” I know 5 people with it, all in their 20s, and every one of them identifies as something other than straight. And I have far more straight friends than LGBT friends. Thank you for writing this!

  31. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Hello, dear reader: Thank you a million times over for commenting. I have rarely heard from the LGBTQ2 community and wish fervently that I would. In my view past traumas in highly sensitive persons results in fibromyalgia. I guess I make that point over and over in my blogs but it bears repeating. The discrimination and trauma experienced by those in the LGBTQ2, particularly in childhood when I believe that fibro develops, is one of the most damaging psychological traumas that can occur. It stands to reason that fibromyalgia would be common among any community of marginalized people…people of colour, women, disabled, old, poor, victims of crime or war, gay, lesbian, bi,trans…the list is endless. It becomes a socio-political issue whereby those who lack empathy (by the way people with fibro are overly empathetic) are the ones who make wars, commit crimes against humanity, and create the intense social anxiety that we are all experiencing on a daily basis.

  32. Peter

    Today is the first time I thought about searching for being gay and having FMS. I was diagnosed this year but this started at around the age of 14. To cut a long story short, had countless courses of antibiotics over the years then had a virus that I never fully recovered from. I think this was my trigger. I was also in a very toxic relationship at the age of 19, there was a lot of manipulation, verbal abuse, fear and the usual wear you down until they have control. This year I’ve been doing therapy for alcohol abuse, surprise, f’en surprise I became an alcoholic. I’ve been in denial a long time, I told myself this mentioned relationship, which lasted 5years and many more years of manipulation, has not had an effect on me. Through therapy I’m waking up my inner child, trying to face my fears. I live in hope that I can reset my safety switch through therapy and diet. Checkout “The Velvet Rage”, very interesting read on a gay mans journey.

    I hope you all have found a way to manage this syndrome, even better if you are in remission. It’s great to know that we are not alone in this fight.


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