When the body’s normal receptors throughout the central nervous system mistake non-painful signals into painful signals, an individual has what’s known as fibromyalgia syndrome. Individuals who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia experience widespread, chronic pain that cannot be explained by any other underlying medical condition. An estimated 2 to 4% of adults have fibromyalgia throughout the world, making it more common than some may initially think. The syndrome affects more women than it does men, with women making up an estimated 75% of patients diagnosed with the condition. Fibromyalgia is complex in how it presents across individual patients, and more importantly, how it is diagnosed by the medical community. When adults living with fibromyalgia do not receive an accurate diagnosis early on in their experience of symptoms, the most appropriate treatment cannot begin to help ease the discomfort.
How Fibromyalgia is Diagnosed
Many people with fibromyalgia experience a wide range of symptoms. The most common issues that arise due to the syndrome include:
- Persistent fatigue
- Muscle achiness and stiffness
- Poor short-term memory
- Inability to concentrate and focus
Some individuals living with fibromyalgia may have flare-ups of certain symptoms while others experience a combination of symptoms consistently. In either case, fibromyalgia symptoms make it difficult to function normally in everyday life, and may eventually lead to social isolation and depression. This makes finding a treatment plan for the symptoms that much more important.
Diagnosing fibromyalgia is a challenge because there is no single test to determine if someone has the condition or not. No analysis of blood drawn or a body scan will do the trick, so instead, doctors and specialists must rule out other conditions to come to a fibromyalgia diagnosis. To start the diagnosis process, certain diagnostic guidelines are followed to evaluate the symptoms presented by a specific patient. An examination of the severity and location of pain is often the first step, with doctors paying close attention to areas around the hips and knees, the shoulders, and the neck. Some specialists require that patients experience 11 out of 18 pain points to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but not all healthcare providers view these pain points in the same light.
The problem with receiving a timely diagnosis of fibromyalgia is the timeframe required to have experienced symptoms. Patients must have had chronic pain, fatigue, or other common fibromyalgia symptoms for at least three months before a diagnosis can be provided. Once these steps are followed, doctors begin to rule out other medical conditions that could cause similar symptoms. This process, from start to finish, can take several months, many tests, and countless failed attempts to find a remedy for the symptoms. Even when a proper diagnosis comes, fibromyalgia has no cure.
Complexities of the Copy-cat Syndrome
Fibromyalgia is known as the copy-cat syndrome in that several other common conditions cause symptoms that are identical on the surface. A legal specialist in negligence cases and medical misdiagnosis explains that one of the health issues that fibromyalgia copies as it relates to symptoms is hypothyroidism. This common medical condition is defined as the underproduction of hormones by the thyroid gland in the neck, typically correlated to an abnormal immune system response. When individuals have this condition, normal body tissue is attacked, and the hormones of the thyroid are reduced. This causes widespread, ongoing pain in the body along with fatigue, depression, and memory loss. Just like fibromyalgia, living with the symptoms of hypothyroidism can seriously impede a person’s ability to lead a fulfilling, normal life. Fortunately, there is a test to check the function of the thyroid gland which can result in a diagnosis of hypothyroidism fairly quickly.
There is no single cure for fibromyalgia or a test that provides a clear and quick diagnosis of the condition. However, getting the proper diagnosis early after symptoms arise is beneficial, as patients are able to get the treatment they need to ease the discomfort. Doctors can recommend medication to help reduce the ongoing pain in certain areas, as well as offer suggestions or prescriptions to help with insomnia that comes with fibromyalgia. Once a diagnosis is given, individuals can start down the path of treatment that works best for them and gives them the opportunity to live a healthy, high-quality life.