When fibromyalgia is diagnosed and treated properly, most people have a significant reduction in symptoms and a much better quality of life.
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.
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.
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.
Another problem with diagnosing fibromyalgia is that a patient could have other conditions at the same time as fibromyalgia.
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.
Fibromyalgia is often identified a by physical exam. People with fibromyalgia have a history of widespread pain with no evident cause that lasts three months or more. There are may be multiple tender points on the patient's body that are identified by applying pressure to these spots. These can be a sign of fibromyalgia, but they are not needed for a diagnosis.
Getting a Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia
There are several important things to keep in mind when thinking about chronic, widespread pain:
- Ongoing chronic pain that is widespread is not in your head, but there could be contributing emotional factors like depression or anxiety. Pain is real and needs to be evaluated.
- Keeping a journal of your pain symptoms will make it easier to talk with your doctor about the pain. It will help make sure the doctor has the information needed to properly evaluate your condition.
- Consultation with a specialist (usually a rheumatologist) who is familiar with fibromyalgia can help diagnose or rule out fibromyalgia as a cause of the pain.
- There are effective treatments for fibromyalgia that can reverse the debilitating effect of the pain and greatly improve a person's quality of life.