Like women, men experience hormonal shifts and changes. Every day, a man’s testosterone levels rise in the morning and fall in the evening. Testosterone levels can even vary from day to day.
Some claim that these hormonal fluctuations may cause symptoms that mimic the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), including depression, fatigue, and mood swings.
But are those monthly hormonal swings regular enough to be called a “male period”?
Yes, claims psychotherapist and author Jed Diamond, PhD. Diamond coined the term Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS) in his book of the same name, to describe these hormonal fluctuations and the symptoms they cause, based on a true biological phenomenon observed in rams.
He believes cisgender men experience hormonal cycles like women. That’s why these cycles have been described as “man-struation” or the “male period.”
A woman’s period and hormonal changes are the result of her natural reproductive cycle, sex therapist Janet Brito, PhD, LCSW, CST says. “The hormonal changes she endures are in preparation for possible conception. [Cisgender] men do not experience the cycle of producing ovocytes, nor do they have a uterus that gets thicker to prepare for a fertilized egg. And if conception does not occur, they do not have a uterine lining that will be released from the body as blood through the vagina, which is what is referred to as a period or menstruation,” Brito explains.
“In this definition, men do not have these types of periods.”
However, Brito notes that men’s testosterone levels can vary, and some factors can influence testosterone levels. As these hormones shift and fluctuate, men may experience symptoms.
The symptoms of these fluctuations, which may share some similarities with symptoms of PMS, may be as close to “male periods” as any man will get.
What causes IMS?
IMS is supposedly the result of dipping and oscillating hormones, specifically testosterone. However, there’s no medical evidence of IMS.
However, it’s true that testosterone plays an important role in a man’s physical and mental well-being, and the human body works to regulate it. But factors unrelated to IMS can cause testosterone levels to change. This is thought to lead to unusual symptoms.
Factors that can influence hormonal levels include:
- age (a man’s testosterone levels start declining as early as age 30)
- changes in diet or weight
- lack of sleep
- eating disorders
These factors can also impact a man’s psychological well-being, Brito adds.
What are the symptoms of IMS?
The symptoms of so-called IMS mimic some of the symptoms women experience during PMS. However, IMS doesn’t follow any physiological pattern the way a woman’s period follows her reproductive cycle, as no hormonal basis of IMS exists. That means these symptoms may not occur regularly, and there may be no pattern to them.
Symptoms of IMS are vague and have been suggested to include:
- confusion or mental fogginess
- low self-esteem
- low libido
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, there is likely something else going on. Some of these symptoms may be the result of testosterone deficiency. Testosterone levels do naturally fluctuate, but levels that are too low can cause problems, including:
- lowered libido
- behavior and mood problems
If these symptoms persist, make an appointment to talk with your doctor. This is a diagnosable condition and can be treated.
Likewise, middle-aged men may experience symptoms as their natural levels of testosterone begin to fall. This condition, colloquially called andropause, is sometimes referred to as male menopause.
“When it comes to andropause, which does show up in the [anecdotal] research, the symptoms tend to be fatigue, low libido, and [it] tends to affect middle-aged men due to low testosterone levels,” Dr. Brito says.
Lastly, the term male period or man-struation is used colloquially to refer to blood found in urine or feces. However, Brito says, bleeding from the male genitals is often the result of parasites or an infection. No matter where the blood is located, you need to see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan as soon as possible.
Lifestyle changes may help
IMS isn’t a recognized medical diagnosis, so “treatment” aims to:
- manage symptoms
- adapt to the emotions and mood swings when they occur
- find ways to relieve stress
Exercise, eating a healthy diet, finding ways to relieve stress, and avoiding alcohol and smoking may help stop these symptoms from happening. These lifestyle changes can also help a variety of physical and mental symptoms.
However, if you believe your symptoms may be the result of low testosterone, see your doctor.
If your doctor suspects another underlying cause, they can schedule tests and procedures to help rule out other problems.
If you believe your partner shows signs of severe hormonal changes or low testosterone, one of the best ways to help him is to have a conversation. You can help him seek out professional help and find ways to manage any symptoms, regardless of their underlying cause.
Lingering mood changes aren’t normal
Bad days that cause crabby attitudes are one thing. Persistent emotional or physical symptoms are something entirely different, and they’re a possible indication that you should see your doctor.
“[Symptoms] are serious if they are bothering you. See a doctor if your symptoms bother you. See a sex therapist if you need help revitalizing your sex life or see a mental health professional if you are experiencing depression or anxiety,” Brito says.
Likewise, if you’re bleeding from your genitals, you should seek medical attention. This isn’t a form of a male period and instead may be a sign of an infection or other condition.