The problems with diagnosing Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a condition that affects how your body processes pain, with sufferers experiencing significantly heightened sensations to pain. The condition is estimated to affect 2% to 4% of the population, with women far more prone to develop symptoms. Also, individuals with a rheumatic disease such as osteoarthritis or lupus tend to be at higher risk.
Those diagnosed with the condition suffer from a wide range of symptoms including musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, memory problems and anxiety.
However, there are considerable issues surrounding the diagnosis procedure of Fibromyalgia, with research indicating that 2/3 of patients diagnosed with the condition actually do not suffer from it at all. That means that in most cases, the symptoms that the patients are suffering from are actually caused by another condition or issue. Clearly, this can cause serious problems as the symptoms will not be correctly treated and patient suffering can be prolonged.
The criteria used to diagnose the condition was initially introduced in 1990 with 18 points identified across the body that can be indicative of Fibromyalgia if the patient experiences pain when these points are pressed. For years, patients were required to feel pain in 11 of these 18 areas to be diagnosed as suffering from Fibromyalgia.
But the issue with this procedure was that the pain the patients experienced, as well as other complaints, can be symptoms of other conditions as well. In fact, many of the symptoms displayed by patients are incredibly common such as long-term fatigue, muscle aches, gastrointestinal complaints, mild depression or anxiety and insomnia. It can be easy to jump to conclusions when diagnosing Fibromyalgia and many patients who suffered from some of these symptoms were told they had developed the condition when this may not have been the case.
In an effort to improve the quality of diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, the previous method used by specialists has since been updated to include additional symptoms that patients must also be experiencing. This includes severe levels of fatigue and cognitive problems as well as issues with sleep patterns such as repeatedly awaking and not feeling refreshed. Before Fibromyalgia is diagnosed, patients must have experienced these symptoms for the last three months without any improvement and there are no other conditions that may explain the symptoms displayed.
There are a wide range of alternative conditions that patients may be suffering from when they experience some of the symptoms linked to Fibromyalgia. For example, the origin of the discomfort and other symptoms that are displayed can often be down to a thyroid problem, such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland), which can cause many of the same symptoms but may be difficult to diagnose so is often missed by specialists.
Patients who have been prescribed long-term courses of antibiotics can often experience issues with cell functions. There may be a difficulty producing energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the mitochondria cells which can leave the body energy deficient and cause some of the symptoms of Fibromyalgia to develop.
Thirdly, the discomfort and pain experienced may be a result of muscle problems. Although one of the most common symptoms among Fibromyalgia sufferers is muscle pain, the issue is actually how the brain and central nervous system interprets information and pain, rather than a severe pain in the muscles themselves.
Before finalizing a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, specialists must ensure that they have completed tests and examinations to rule out all other potential conditions which may lie behind the symptoms. Although a physical may be able to detect tenderness, unfortunately, there are no methods such as blood tests or x-rays which are able to assist with the diagnosis.
As there are no tests that can confirm that the patient is suffering from Fibromyalgia, specialists can have a great deal of difficulty in accurately diagnosing the symptoms. One of the main methods used in the process is discussing the level of pain experienced by the patient. Of course, this is very subjective as pain thresholds vary greatly from person to person, therefore, diagnosing Fibromyalgia can be problematic.
The traditional test used to diagnosis Fibromyalgia is also easy to misinterpret, with the symptoms common in a vast variety of other conditions and complaints. There are many conditions that can easily be mistakenly diagnosed as Fibromyalgia, such as rheumatoid arthritis which can result in neck pain that may lead to an incorrect diagnosis.
The misdiagnosis of any condition only prolongs the symptoms and ensures that the real issues are not effectively treated. The difficulties with an accurate diagnosis are perhaps best demonstrated during examinations of the lower back. Pain in this region is incredibly common, with over 25% of U.S. adults experiencing lower back pain, so there are countless possible causes of these symptoms and a high chance for misdiagnosis.