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Fibromyalgia Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis

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Because of a multifaceted treatment approach that involves medications and lifestyle strategies, the prognosis for people with fibromyalgia is better than ever before. But first, a doctor needs to make an accurate diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Are you wondering how that's done?

Unfortunately, fibromyalgia is regularly misunderstood. Despite all the latest information about fibromyalgia with its severe muscle pain, unrelenting fatigue and sleep problems, and feelings of anxiety and depression, doctors are still misdiagnosing this common pain disorder. As a result, some patients are getting a diagnosis for the wrong condition -- for example, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, or some other pain problem.

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What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome with multiple symptoms that commonly occur together, including widespread pain, decreased pain threshold or tender points, incapacitating fatigue, and anxiety or depression.

Why Is Diagnosing Fibromyalgia Difficult?

Fibromyalgia consists of symptoms that are also found in many other conditions. A doctor must rule out these other conditions before making the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. There is no simple test to diagnose fibromyalgia. Many people go from doctor to doctor without receiving a medical diagnosis for their fibromyalgia symptoms. Many wonder if their painful symptoms are simply imagined.

In the past, millions of fibromyalgia patients were misdiagnosed as having depression, inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid or lupus, chronic myofascial pain, or chronic fatigue syndrome. There are, of course, a few similarities between fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome and between fibromyalgia and arthritis. But fibromyalgia is different. It is a distinct condition that needs an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

What Tests Are Used to Diagnose Fibromyalgia?

Most laboratory tests are not very useful by themselves for diagnosing fibromyalgia. There is a blood test -- called FM/a -- that purportedly identifies markers produced by immune system blood cells in people with fibromyalgia. However, many experts don't recommend it because there is not enough scientific evidence to support its use. 

Your doctor will often make a diagnosis after doing a physical exam and discussing your symptoms with you. The reason for this is that a diagnosis to large extent is based on the way you feel. For instance, even though your doctor may notice tender points during the physical exam, you still need to tell him or her about the pain you feel in those areas.

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