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Fibromyalgia Health Center

Fibromyalgia 10 Years Later: Medical Community Still Puzzled

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Nov. 16, 1999 (Cleveland) - For fibromyalgia sufferers who think their condition doesn?t receive adequate attention from the medical community, a new report only fuels the fire. The diagnosis and treatment of fibromyalgia -- and even whether it exists at all -- continue to generate controversy among physicians, according to Don L. Goldenberg, MD, author of an article on fibromyalgia that appears in a recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"[Fibromyalgia] continues to be very controversial and causes a lot of frustration, both in the medical community and for the millions of people who have it," Goldenberg writes. The problem is that some physicians still haven?t accepted the existence of the syndrome because of the lack of "objective, scientific findings," says Goldenberg, chief of rheumatology at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. "Sometimes we don't pay much attention to something without scientific or laboratory evidence, and can believe it's all in people's heads."

It is estimated that fibromyalgia -- which causes pain and stiffness in soft tissue such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments -- affects about 2% of the general population. It is more common in women than in men and occurs with more frequency as people age

Fibromyalgia is especially difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are mostly subjective, which means that the discomfort sufferers experience can?t be "visibly" measured. In addition to pain, some persons with the syndrome also suffer from sleep disturbances, headaches, and fatigue. Physicians usually make a diagnosis of fibromyalgia based on 1) the number of places on the body where a patient experiences tenderness (soreness to the touch) and 2) the pattern of the pain. But a routine physical examination usually uncovers no other abnormalities.

Traditionally, Goldenberg tells WebMD, both physicians and the general population have trouble relating to any physical disease that cannot be objectively and scientifically measured. He compares the syndrome with other puzzling conditions such as migraine headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome (which fibromyalgia strongly resembles), and irritable bowel syndrome.

Even if fibromyalgia can?t be measured, Goldenberg says, it is "a common condition . . . and people are suffering as a result. These [conditions] all legitimately require further investigation and study.

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