Cramps, mood swings and irritability become second nature to us women during 'that time of the month' which is why we are often called ‘cranky’ by men. On the other hand, it turns out that they could face similar symptoms to PMS too! If you’ve ever noticed the men in your life get moody and irritable out of the blue, chances are they could be showing symptoms of Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS). While they may not have to bleed to show symptoms of PMS, turns out IMS is just as bad and this is what you need to know about it-
So what is Irritable Male Syndrome?
IMS can be defined "as a state of hypersensitivity, frustration, anxiety, and anger that occurs in males and is associated with biochemical changes, hormonal fluctuations, stress, and loss of male identity".
The term was coined by psychotherapist Jed Diamond in an effort to understand the hormonal fluctuations that could affect men too. He studied this syndrome for over 40 years and involving over 1000 men and suggested: "that the hormone cycle of a male fluctuates similarly to the female cycle, with added daily and seasonal cycles".
Clinically known as Andropause or 'Male Menopause', IMS could be the reason for the infamous stereotype of the grumpy old man. Just like the menopause that females go through, andropause is the result of various chemical and hormonal imbalances that come with age and result in physical and emotional changes.
IMS has a set of symptoms that one should be on the look-out for if you're worried that you or someone you know could be going through it-
Symptoms of Irritable Male Syndrome
As the name suggests, one of the most evident symptoms of IMS is irritability but it can manifest itself through a variety of symptoms like:-
- Lower self-confidence
- Difficulty in concentration
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Difficulty in losing weight
- Lower sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction (in extreme cases)
However, it may also occur as the 4 most common or core symptoms like -
1) Hypersensitivity- Often, men are oblivious to their own hypersensitivity but may find themselves reacting in an extreme manner to the smallest of inconveniences. They may become withdrawn and you may feel that they have suddenly become 'too sensitive'.
2) Anxiety- Job security, financial planning, relationship problems, sexual satisfaction are just a few issues that men typically get anxious over. Hormonal fluctuations tend to increase this anxiety two-fold and they may suddenly find themselves feeling anxious all the time
3) Frustration- Defined as the 'feeling of annoyance at being hindered or criticized', men may typically find themselves frustrated over not being able to get what they want out of life. Also sometimes called a mid-life crisis, feelings of frustration are heightened due to IMS and may leave men feeling unsatisfied and defeated with where they are in life.
4) Anger- Hostility, aggression and sometimes even violence are some of the ways in which IMS may cause men to act out with anger.
These symptoms could be faced by anyone at any point of their life, however, men face heightened versions of these symptoms specifically when their body goes through changes and face IMS. To manage these symptoms, it is important to be aware of what exactly causes them.
What exactly causes IMS?
While IMS may occur in men for different reasons, there are usually 3 main triggers-
1) Hormonal fluctuations- Just like changing oestrogen levels causes PMS in women, fluctuating testosterone levels causes IMS in men. More specifically, low testosterone levels are known to be one of the main cause of IMS. The NCBI states "The irritable male syndrome (IMS) is a behavioural state of nervousness, irritability, lethargy and depression that occurs in adult male mammals following the withdrawal of testosterone". Testosterone levels are also known to drop in men as they grow old which is why IMS is generally observed in older men.
Lower levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone, is also said to worsen the effect of IMS by making men feel grumpy, irritable and depressed.
2)Stress - Stress is bad for our bodies for a variety of reasons but since it brings about a lot of hormonal change along, it is particularly bad for someone with IMS. Stress can worsen the symptoms of IMS as well as make the body unresponsive to treatments. In extreme cases, it is also known to bring about an early onset of IMS in men.
3) Loss of male identity and purpose - We all tend to associate our self-worth with our identity and purpose but society tends to put much more pressure onto men regarding their purpose. 'Being the man of the house' and 'bringing home the bacon' are just some of the societal roles that men have to worry about fulfilling. Susan Faludi, interviewed around men to find out their opinion and she concluded that "Men put a lot of their identity and sense of self-worth into their jobs. If we aren't working or can't support our family, we feel that we're not really men. We need to help men realize there is more to who they are than a paycheck".
While these causes may seem unavoidable and just a by-product of living life, IMS can be managed if it is diagnosed properly and managed well.
Diagnosing IMS is the key to managing it
Due to lack of awareness, Irritable Male Syndrome is often one that goes undiagnosed. Checking your testosterone levels as part of a normal blood checkup could prevent any mood swings and other unwanted symptoms. Understanding your current testosterone levels could also be effective in devising a treatment and management strategy if you do find yourself exhibiting symptoms of IMS.
Treating and living with IMS
Since the irritable male syndrome is essentially caused due to fluctuations in the levels of testosterone, a testosterone replacement therapy could be an option for someone whose IMS symptoms are unmanageable. The process is simple, with regular injections of a synthetic version of the hormone can help reduce the side effects of decreasing testosterone levels and improve functioning. However, like any hormone replacement therapy, it has side effects and could result in increased mood swings and irritability, among other adverse effects.
IMS is the natural course for any man who is ageing. While it cannot be avoided, it can certainly be dealt with in a way that is not unpleasant and troublesome by a few simple steps -
- Acknowledging when one has IMS is the first step to living with it. There is no shame in it and talking about it will only help the partner understand what you're going through.
- Regular testosterone level check-ups will also help identify the onset of IMS early and thus be more effective in managing its symptoms
- Since stress is one of the causes, stress-busting exercises and relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or even a brisk walk around the residential complex can one help feel energised and relaxed?
- The release of 'feel-good' hormones like dopamine and serotonin will be secreted when one is getting enough exercise and sleep and hence one should prioritise them. These hormones will also help deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression and make IMS much more tolerable.
- Eating a well-balanced diet with healthy carbohydrates, fats, proteins and whole grain will help the body naturally deal with the biochemical imbalances as well as improve one's immunity.
Just like women have to face the discomfort of PMS every month, IMS is part and parcel of being a man. There is no shame in showing signs as it is a natural process that almost every man goes through in his life. Acknowledging it, treating with it in a healthy way and educating the people around you about it is the ideal way of dealing with it. The notion of mood swings being a 'lady problem' needs to be dismissed as studies show over 26% of men face IMS regularly on a monthly basis. It is time we stop being toxic and be more accepting, especially towards occurrences that we do not understand.