Erasing the Stigma for Men With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Do men get chronic fatigue syndrome

Do men get chronic fatigue syndrome? Men most definitely get chronic fatigue syndrome! But why don’t we hear about it more often? Men also get fibromyalgia, but we rarely hear about that either. In fact, both conditions are often thought of as a “woman’s disease.” So, what’s the deal? Are women really diagnosed more frequently? Are men diagnosed at all? Both conditions seem to plague women more than men, but is that actually true?

Changing the Status from Male Disorder to Female Disorder

It will probably surprise you to know that chronic fatigue syndrome, formerly known as neurasthenia, was considered a disorder that primarily occurred in males around the turn of the 20th century. According to the Information Centre for Gender Research in Norway, “Just over 100 years ago it was primarily upper class men in intellectual professions who were affected. “Neurasthenia,” as the condition was called at the time, was a physical diagnosis with high status.”

My, oh my…how things have changed, haven’t they? Over time, chronic fatigue started to become associated with women who simply couldn’t handle the stresses of life. Of course, now we know that is as foolish as the idea of an “upper class” affliction. Nevertheless, this notion of a woman’s disorder has been highly influential in our understanding and perception of conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome and its relative, fibromyalgia.

Furthermore, allegedly not being able to deal with stress flies in the face of American/Western masculinity, does it not? After all, men are often taught to be tough and keep their feelings to themselves, because anything otherwise is considered a sign of “weakness.”

This may seem like a generalization, but compared to women, haven’t you noticed how infrequently men visit their physician when they absolutely should? Thus, when it comes to a century of chronic fatigue syndrome, it seems we have merely exchanged one stigma for another. So, how does this effect the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome in men?

Do men get chronic fatigue syndrome?

An Australian advocacy group for chronic fatigue explains, “Typically, men’s self-image or self-worth is connected to their career and their ability support themselves and/or their family. So when they fall ill with a chronic condition they may feel less masculine and want to ignore the symptoms and continue on as normal, thus exacerbating the symptoms. Trying to keep up appearances will just lead to the “push” and “crash” or “boom and “bust” cycles making the illness worse.”

As you can see from the past and present, whether men are diagnosed with it or not, they are definitely dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome. However, due to social stigmas and expectations, even asking, “Do men get chronic fatigue syndrome?” makes it is impossible to know just how many men are afflicted by it. Indeed, the same can be said for fibromyalgia. At any rate, predictably low estimates show that, of the million or so people in the U.S. believed to have CFS, men make up 20-40% of them. The volume of men involved is so profound, that the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke awarded a research team $1.9M to study CFS in men. That is an extraordinary amount of money for research. That should indicate to you that, not only is this a really big deal, but the medical community is starting to change their perspective when it comes to gender and chronic fatigue. And because fibromyalgia is a related condition, it will be included in the new understanding as well. It will, no doubt, take time.

How to Treat CFS in Men

Women are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome four times more often than men. And remember that it does need to be diagnosed. Because, similar to fibromyalgia, CFS can mimic other conditions like mononucleosis or depression. So far, however, the symptoms in both men and women appear to be similar. The research project referenced above may be shed more light on that in time. For now, generally the same treatment methods are applied to men and women, depending on the type of medical practitioner you visit.  They run the gamut from prescription medications and vitamin supplements to acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy. The real problem is getting the diagnosis in men in the first place.

Are you a man with CFS? What has your experience been in seeking diagnosis and treatment? Both men and women who deal with conditions like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia often feel isolated from their families. It is important to find support groups and counseling to help you manage the emotional toll that these conditions take on you. While that is a very different treatment than what your physician will give you, knowing how to cope with the whole package will get you on the road to improvement even quicker. Please share your experiences with us here, especially if you are a male or if you have a male in your life that suffers from CFS or fibromyaliga, even if they haven’t been diagnosed.

Further Reading: Big Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Grant Explores Why Men Get ME/CFS

Do men get chronic fatigue syndrome? You bet they do. Tell us about your experience in the comments.