A qualitative investigation of how men experience fibromyalgia.
This qualitative study describes the experience of eight men with fibromyalgia (FM).
Data from repeated semi-structured interviews was analysed using the constant
comparative method, in order to generate a grounded theory. The specific aims were
to explore how individuals perceived and made sense of their condition, and to
discover the impact of FM upon their sense of identity and intimate relationships.
Two core categories emerged from data analysis - loss and limited understanding.
Losses pertained to the men's capabilities and activities; role and identity; work; and
relationships. Limited understanding was described in relation to three levels of
experience: limited understanding by the individual sufferer; by other people; and by
health care professionals.
Various intervening and contextual variables were identified for each phenomenon.
Analysis suggested that loss is more likely to be pronounced where pain is severe and
constant; the degree of incapacity is high; and there is a complete cessation of work.
Intervening conditions likely to reduce the sense of loss included role expectations
consistent with capabilities; absence of young dependants; a flexible work
environment; living with a partner; favourable social comparisons; high self-efficacy
and accepting attitude towards illness.
Limited understanding was likely to be more pronounced where the individual
perceived no rational link between the triggering event and symptoms of FM, and
where new difficulties were encountered. The individual was more likely to perceive
that others misunderstood their situation if they were not using a mobility aid
themselves. Individuals were more likely to perceive limited understanding by the
medical profession where the GP had not been especially supportive, and where
contact with the specialist was unsatisfactory. Limited understanding was
exacerbated by intervening variables including lack of contact with other FM sufferers
and a treatment history focusing on 'fixing' the problem.
Men with FM struggled to find meaning in their experience. Some individuals were
able to locate possible causes, but all the men were unable to fully understand their
The analysis suggested that the experience of FM varies for different men. The study
reveals that FM is a complex experience characterised by loss, which sufferers and
health care professionals struggle to understand.
Implications for health care practice and further research are discussed. This study
will help FM sufferers understand their condition more fully. Moreover, it should
enrich the understanding of health care professionals - thereby facilitating encounters
characterised by greater support and empathy for men with FM.