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Common Misdiagnoses of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a condition marked by widespread chronic pain and fatigue with no known cause. It's not fatal. Though the pain may not have been caused by an injury, it is real.

When fibromyalgia is diagnosed and treated properly, most people have a significant reduction in symptoms and a much better quality of life.

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But diagnosing fibromyalgia is often difficult. Its symptoms can mimic those of other conditions.

Here's a look at the common ways that fibromyalgia can be misdiagnosed.

Symptom Overlap

The main symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain. You can have pain on the right and left side of the body. It can also be above and below the waist. But the pain may also occur in only one or two places in the body, especially the neck and shoulders.

A diagnosis of fibromyalgia can be tricky, because fibromyalgia isn't the only condition with widespread pain.

Besides pain, another major symptom of fibromyalgia is chronic fatigue. But patients with other conditions also have chronic fatigue.

There are other symptoms that may occur in fibromyalgia. But just like pain and fatigue, the symptoms are experienced by patients with other conditions. These symptoms include:

  • Thinking and memory problems ("fibro fog")
  • Headaches, both tension and migraine
  • Sensitivity to temperature, light, and noise
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • TMJ syndrome
  • Morning stiffness
  • Numbing or tingling of the extremities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Urinary problems

Any combination of these symptoms can also suggest the presence of other serious illnesses, such as:

Another reason fibromyalgia is hard to diagnose is the tendency for groups of symptoms to occur together in fibromyalgia patients. But the groups will not be the same for everyone. So, not everyone with fibromyalgia will have all the symptoms described above.

And because the symptoms can suggest multiple diseases, doctors need to rule them out first as they look for an explanation.

Coexisting Conditions

Another problem with diagnosing fibromyalgia is that a patient could have other conditions at the same time as fibromyalgia.

For example, a person could have Lyme disease, arthritis, or obstructive sleep apnea -- all conditions that can mimic fibromyalgia -- and also have fibromyalgia as a secondary condition.

Health professionals, especially those unfamiliar with fibromyalgia, may limit themselves to treating one disease and fail to check whether fibromyalgia could be contributing to the symptoms.

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