Dispelling the FM Misconception
Most Common Fibromyalgia Misconception
The #1 fibromyalgia (FM) misconception is that it is not a bonafide or ‘real’ medical problem. Since FM is difficult both to diagnose and to treat, people suffering from this debilitating illness are often told that their relentless pain, fatigue, inability to sleep, depression, light-headedness, nauseous feeling, and other FM symptoms are ‘in their head.’ Indeed, fibromyalgia has been called the “garbage-can diagnosis,” implying that when doctors cannot pinpoint what is wrong, they label a person with having fibromyalgia.
Dispelling the Myth
Contrary to years past, doctors now know much more about fibromyalgia, including its external manifestation, physiological and neurological underpinnings, as well as its treatment. Today there are specific criteria by which the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) classifies fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). People are diagnosed with the condition if they have 11 out of 18 tender points on their body, as well as a history of pain in all parts of their body and axial skeleton. It is estimated that 2-4% of the American population are victims of this disease. Furthermore, the central nervous system of people with fibromyalgia (i.e. their brain and spinal cords) process pain signals differently than the average person, with a heightened sensitivity to touch, pressure, and pain. Thus fibromyalgia is real on both a physical and neurological level.
No Quick Fix
One of the factors perpetuating the FM misconception is that there is no quick fix to this illness. Today’s society is geared towards finding ‘the cure’ for medical ailments of all types, and since treating FM is a long-term, lifelong process (entailing pain management and lifestyle changes), people are skeptical of fibromyalgia as an actual disease. It is primarily those who suffer from FM or who have family members or close friends with the condition that have come to understand and appreciate FM as a major illness affecting both functioning and quality of life.
The fact that FM often mimics or presents concurrently with other disorders leads to misdiagnoses. Some of the overlapping symptoms and conditions simulating FM which can cause confusion include fatigue, swelling of the hands and feet, morning stiffness, pale or reddened skin, sleep apnea, hypothyroidism, PMR, and hepatitis C.
Hope for FMS
One of the potentially harmful results of FM misconceptions is the feeling that there is no hope or help for those suffering from the disease. Fortunately, today this is not true. While there is no conventional cure for fibromyalgia, there are a variety of treatments that can significantly raise the quality of life for people with fibromyalgia.
Providing FM sufferers with a box of treatment tools they can use to regain control in their lives does much to add to their sense of power and to provide them with that critical sense of hope. When it comes to managing chronic pain, perception is a key factor that can determine one’s quality of life. Dispelling FM misconceptions can therefore go a long way in the successful management of this chronic disease.