Reasons Fibromyalgia is Often Misdiagnosed
Fibromyalgia, one of the most common chronic pain syndromes in the world, impacts between 2 and 4% of the population, and affects women more often than men of the same age. The condition has taken some time to gain a comprehensive definition from medical communities throughout the world, given its complex effect on the individual who experiences it. However, the syndrome is known to include widespread symptoms such as ongoing severe muscle pain, extreme fatigue, mental fogginess, and a persistent achiness.
Fibromyalgia makes it difficult to live a normal life when individuals with the condition do not have a proper diagnosis or a course of treatment in place, but getting the diagnosis correct from the start is more challenging than other common medical conditions.
The Complex Case of Fibromyalgia
When someone informs their doctor or other medical professional that they are experiencing symptoms that may ultimately lead to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, there are several diagnostic guidelines that are used to determine if the syndrome is indeed the culprit. First, doctors examine the individual to evaluate whether or not there is widespread pain in all four body quadrants, including the front of the neck, around the hips and knees, at the elbows, or around the shoulders. Previously, the American College of Rheumatology considered someone who had 11 of 18 listed pain points to have fibromyalgia. In current practice, doctors and specialists focus on more widespread pain combined with other symptoms of the condition.
Doctors also ask patients who have widespread, unexplained pain, how long symptoms have been impacting their lives. Typically, at least three months of consistent symptoms is necessary to make a fibromyalgia diagnosis, making it necessary for individuals to keep track of their symptoms before visiting the doctor. However, the most prevalent issue with diagnosing fibromyalgia accurately from the beginning is that diagnosis requires ruling out all other conditions that may show similar signs as fibromyalgia on the surface. There is no singular test like drawing blood or undergoing a full body scan that can pinpoint fibromyalgia as the underlying issue causing pain, and because there is no clear cause of the condition, patients are often left confused and misdiagnosed.
Going several months or even years without a proper diagnosis of fibromyalgia, or a medical condition that is incorrectly deemed fibromyalgia in the first place, can lead to starting a plan of care for treatment that does not truly help in reducing symptoms or improving one’s quality of life.
Because a diagnosis of fibromyalgia requires ruling out all the other possibilities that could be causing the chronic pain, there are several conditions that the doctor may look to first as an answer. A legal specialist in negligence and medical misdiagnosis explains that osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, mimics the pain found in fibromyalgia patients, including tender points near the joints, and achiness in the elbows, hips, and knees. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the degeneration of cartilage that ultimately leads to tissue and bone damage. The joint pain that comes with the common condition resembles that of fibromyalgia, making it easy to misdiagnose. Both osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia patients experience stiffness of the body, especially in the morning, which compounds the possibility of a misdiagnosis even more.
In addition to osteoarthritis, conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and hypothyroidism have similar symptoms to fibromyalgia. However, each health issue has a different underlying cause, and ultimately, a different treatment regimen that should be recommended and followed. Following a plan of care for hypothyroidism or depression won’t often solve the chronic pain, fatigue, and social isolation that goes hand in hand with fibromyalgia, leaving patients suffering unnecessarily.
There is no current cure for fibromyalgia which can make it seem as though getting a proper diagnosis from the start is nothing more than a check in the box. However, having a better understanding of the experiences fibromyalgia patients have at the early onset of symptoms is beneficial to the medical community in finding a permanent solution to chronic, widespread pain in the future. Individuals who have experience the pain, fatigue, and mental fog that may be connected to fibromyalgia are encouraged to visit their doctor so that an accurate diagnosis and eventual treatment can be offered.