One of the most common syndromes affecting adult men and women is fibromyalgia, defined as a chronic pain condition. Individuals with fibromyalgia syndrome experience the effects of the body’s natural receptors throughout the central nervous system mistakenly turning non-painful signals into painful ones. This misfire of information within the body leads to widespread, persistent pain with no explainable cause. It is estimated that between 2 and 4% of the adult population has fibromyalgia, with the syndrome affecting more women than men.
The chronic pain syndrome is complex in that there is no test that quickly leads to a diagnosis, and there is not currently a single cure to manage all symptoms at once. To help individuals understand fibromyalgia, it is helpful to understand the symptoms that go hand in hand with the condition along with how the syndrome is diagnosed.
Getting a Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia
Before receiving an accurate diagnosis of fibromyalgia, individuals often live with inexplicable pain and tenderness throughout their bodies. This is the most common symptom of fibromyalgia syndrome, but there are other warnings signs that should lead to scheduling a visit with one’s primary care provider. The most common symptoms experienced by people with fibromyalgia include:
- Migraine headaches
- Tenderness throughout the body
- Muscle achiness and pain
- Disturbed sleep
- Stiffness in the morning or throughout the day
- Depression and anxiety
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Acid reflux
Any combination of these symptoms may be experienced by individuals with fibromyalgia, either as persistent issues or as flare-ups that only happen occasionally. Adults living with fibromyalgia may not have any recognisable symptoms at first, but once a triggering event takes place, the pain and discomfort are ongoing. For some, a fibromyalgia trigger may be a virus or infection which damages the nerves, such as Lyme’s disease, HIV, or Coxsackie B virus. In other cases, fibromyalgia pain may be triggered by an injury or emotional stress, hormonal changes in the body, or another disease or condition like arthritis.
Fibromyalgia is known to have a genetic link, meaning people with family members who have the syndrome are more prone to experiencing it themselves. Changes to the structure of the brain may also lead to fibromyalgia. While there are many triggers to the condition, these should not be mistaken for causes.
Diagnosing fibromyalgia is a complicated task, due in part to the fact that there is no single test or examination that can pinpoint the condition as the culprit of the symptoms. Instead, medical professionals are required to rule out other health issues that cause similar or identical symptoms as fibromyalgia, making the process arduous at best. Also, individuals with fibromyalgia may not receive a diagnosis quickly, given that most medical professionals only diagnose the condition after at least three months of consistent symptoms have been noted. Most examinations for fibromyalgia include an analysis of pain points throughout the body, the severity of the pain, and then testing for other conditions that may be mistaken for the syndrome.
Conditions that Mimic Fibromyalgia
Because fibromyalgia has no single underlying cause, healthcare providers are forced to look at other conditions with a clearer cause before offering a diagnosis of the syndrome to patients in pain. A legal specialist in medical misdiagnosis and negligence cases shares that older individuals with fibromyalgia may initially receive a diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatica – an inflammatory disorder in people over age 50. The condition is characterised by persistent pain and stiffness, especially in the neck, shoulders, and hips, similar to the discomfort fibromyalgia patients experience. Polymyalgia rheumatica also causes headaches, another common symptom of fibromyalgia, making it a common misdiagnosis among patients.
Because a diagnosis of fibromyalgia takes time and the elimination of other conditions that may be causing ongoing symptoms, misdiagnosis runs rampant. Individuals who do not receive the correct diagnosis of fibromyalgia or the health condition truly in play may be given treatment options that are not able to provide respite from the pain. This could lead to further isolation and ongoing discomfort that reduces their quality of life. In order to receive the correct diagnosis as early as possible, individuals experiencing chronic, widespread pain should schedule a time with their primary care provider sooner rather than later. They will also improve the diagnosis process by documented the pain they have on a daily basis, and its severity, and sharing these details with their provider. While there is no cure-all for fibromyalgia, the right diagnosis can lead to the right medication or treatment regimen to ease the symptoms for patients.