Fibromyalgia is not a new condition. It’s been around for centuries with people reporting conditions with similar symptoms through the ages. But Fibromyalgia wasn’t officially given its current name until 1976.
A Mysterious Illness
Doctors have officially been studying the condition since the 1800s and in 1816 University of Edinburgh surgeon, Dr. William Balfour, gave the first medical description of fibromyalgia. In 1824 he identified the described tender points and what they are.
Some suggest there are even earlier accounts of the description of fibromyalgia symptoms. In the Bible Job’s physical anguish is described in Job 7:3-4 as “I, too, have been assigned months of futility, long and weary nights of misery. When I go to bed, I think, `When will it be morning?’ But the night drags on, and I toss till dawn…And now my heart is broken. Depression haunts my days. My weary nights are filled with pain as though something were relentlessly gnawing at my bones.”
English army nurse Florence Nightingale is said to have become incredibly ill during the Crimean War (1854-1856) when she was working on the front lines. She never recovered and was almost always bedridden until her death in 1910. Accounts say she suffered from unrelenting pain and fatigue, much like those who suffer from what is today known as fibromyalgia.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia were called muscular rheumatism in the 1600s. In 1904 the name to describe the symptoms was changed to fibrositis by Sir William Gowers to recognize the tender points that patients with muscular rheumatism experienced.
The foundation for the name fibromyalgia was laid in 1972 when Dr. Hugh Smythe began describing the widespread pain associated with the tender points. The sleep disturbances associated with fibromyalgia was discovered in 1975. Further studies by medical researchers discovered that inflammation didn’t occur around the tender points and the name of the condition was changed from fibrositis to fibromyalgia, which means pain in muscles and tissues.
In 1987 fibromyalgia was considered a real physical condition by the American Medical Association. Three years later in 1990 the American College of Rheumatology developed diagnostic criteria for the condition to help doctors diagnose patients with fibromyalgia.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Lyrica for fibromyalgia treatment in 2007.
Trying to Discover the Cause
Women tend to get fibromyalgia more often than men. When it was first discovered and medically recognized, it was considered a psychological disorder with the inflicted being considered emotional hypochondriacs desperately seeking attention. There are still some today who believe this.
Studies in the 20th century began when the condition was considered a real illness. Tests were done on the muscles and tissues of patients to see if there was any damage to them. No damage was discovered leading researchers to theorize FM was an autoimmune disorder. Studies showed that FM does not disturb the immune system.
Although recognized as an official illness, doctors still don’t know the cause. Most recent studies show that FM patients have an overly sensitive central nervous system.