Is Fibromyalgia a real disease or just an imaginary condition?

Question Mark Squircle (Photo by Xurble - CC-BY)

Question Mark Squircle (Photo by Xurble - CC-BY)

For those who suffer from it, the answer is “Yes – it’s real!”

For the doctors who treat it, the answer is not so clear.

Fibromyalgia encompasses of a host of symptoms. Chronic muscle pain, stiffness and  fatigue are the most common complaints. Headaches, digestive disturbances, anxiety and depression, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, insomnia, urinary problems and hypersensitivity to sound, light and temperature are included in the complex array of symptoms.

Fibromyalgia sufferers often face an uphill battle when trying to convince a doctor that their illness is real. The condition is comprised of invisible symptoms which only the patient can describe. The pain is felt by the individual alone. There is no evidence of inflammation. Laboratory and blood tests detect nothing. X-rays show no swollen joints. Scientists have found no identifiable link between fibromyalgia and biological or environmental causes.

While the American Medical Association has officially recognized the existence of fibromyalgia, doctors are often hesitant to prescribe medications for symptoms like chronic pain which they believe might have a psychological rather than a physical basis. Some patients request narcotics when they have exhausted other methods of alleviating their pain, placing their doctor in a precarious position.  Worries about false claims, abuse or addiction can make physicians wary.

There is some speculation that fibromyalgia sufferers process pain differently than others. While many people experience a variety of daily aches and pains as they age, they find the ability to adapt. Fibromyalgia sufferers do not. Recent research involving brain imaging reveals that individuals with fibromyalgia have increased blood flow to the areas of the brain which experience pain. This might be a start in lending credibility to the millions of individuals who suffer from inexplicable pain on a daily basis.

Exercise, antidepressants, muscle relaxants,  physical therapy, hypnosis, biofeedback, stress reduction, cognitive therapy, acupuncture and diet and lifestyle changes are some of the more helpful treatments for the approximately 10 million Americans who suffer from fibromyalgia. Lyrica and Cymbalta are two new medications that can also provide relief, but patients need to be aware that these come with their own set of side effects.

See the National Fibromyalgia Association website for more information

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