The medical community estimates that some 15 million U.S. women suffer from the debilitating condition called fibromyalgia. Physicians stand on either side of a divide that on the one hand claims fibromyalgia is just a catch-all diagnosis lacking any clinical criteria, whereas others believe the syndrome to be a true medical condition. A new book written by M. Clement Hall, MD, called The Fibromyalgia Controversy, attempts to present an unprejudiced look at fibromyalgia today by citing modern research and opinions on the condition and its attendant controversy.
Some 5% of Americans, most of them women, suffer from fibromyalgia. The condition is characterized by widespread chronic pain, tender areas, heightened pain sensitivity, sleep disturbances, psychological distress, and fatigue. Diagnosing the condition is made difficult because of the vague nature of the symptoms that cannot be diagnosed through any standard clinical tests or findings. In essence, the controversy centers on whether fibromyalgia is an actual disease, or only a cluster of symptoms that must be managed one by one.
An article appearing in the Sacramento Bee on May 31, 2009, noted, “Despite being recognized as a diagnosable disease by the American College of Rheumatology, the Food and Drug Administration and most insurers, fibromyalgia has not completely shed the stigma of being dismissed as “psychosomatic” by some in the medical establishment.”
Hypochondria or Syndrome?
There is probably no other medical condition which is discussed with such heat and disagreement. Many physicians feel that fibromyalgia patients are hypochondriacs looking for tea and sympathy rather than a cure and good health. Others recognize the frequency with which the condition pops up and calls for wider recognition. Fibromyalgia sufferers, meantime, continue to fight for legitimacy and support from the greater medical community as they struggle with the pain and disability of their condition.
Hall’s book presents six fictional studies (based on true cases) of fibromyalgia patients coming from different backgrounds and describes the process they go through of investigation, diagnosis, and treatment. Hall attempts to cover the wide range of symptoms and associated conditions experienced by his many fibromyalgia patients through the years of his practice. This approach is one that gives a clear overall picture of fibromyalgia in modern North America.
In a Library Journal review for the University of Illinois at Chicago, Rebecca Raszewski says, “While several books address the challenges of living with fibromyalgia…Hall’s is a uniquely objective account that surveys diagnosis, treatments, and the controversy surrounding the condition.”
A Revealing Interview
In an interview in Guelph, Dr. Hall spoke about his book and the fact that while there are people living in constant, often debilitating, pain every day of their lives, they have been done a disservice by the medical community in terms of the label of fibromyalgia.
In that interview, he stated that “The diagnosis of fibromyalgia is based on finding something that doesn’t exist.” Although he is now retired (since 2006), Dr. Hall was an orthopedic surgeon in Guelph for more than 30 years. He worked around the world in missions as a doctor, and was a medical expert for insurance companies.
Referring to pain sufferers, Dr. Hall said, “Their pain prevents them from doing what they want and their lives are miserable.”
Hall said that in 1990 when the American College of Rheumatology met to share research on pain, at that meeting, fibromyalgia – the name, the symptoms and the diagnosis – was born. It was decided by the doctors at the conference that patients who suffer with chronic, all-over pain for at least three months and experience pain in at least 11 of 18 pressure points have fibromyalgia. The AMA endorsed the label, as did other professional groups, and the disease now exists.
“They are not pretending. I believe that are experiencing pain. But what they have, we don’t know,” he said. “But check the internet. There are an endless number of ‘cures’ – it’s big business.”
This book will probably be something we’ll be hearing a lot about over the coming years. For people suffering with fibromyalgia, this may just be the book to help find the right treatment for the problem.