Fibromyalgia: Does It Really Exist?
Does Fibromyalgia Really Exist,
or is It Just a Catch-All “Diagnosis”
When We Don’t Take the Time to Run the Right Tests?
Is Fibromyalgia being used as a “catch-all” diagnosis when doctors won’t take the time to find out what is really wrong? Does Fibromyalgia really exist?
Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with this mysterious condition, but scientists still don’t know what it actually is. For example, The Mayo Clinic, one of the most prestigious, cutting-edge medical facilities in the US, defines Fibromyalgia on its website as “a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.” Does that sound vague to you?
The National Institute of Health reports that scientists have estimated that “fibromyalgia affects 5 million Americans 18 or older.” How can it be that we have 5 million people with a condition that has no true known cause (only guesses), no diagnostic laboratory tests to find out if someone has it, and no drugs to treat the actual condition – only the symptoms?
Fibromyalgia is a diagnosis given to thousands of people each year. But in the absence of actual diagnostic testing, is it a real thing? Having had such a “diagnosis” myself years ago, I’m sure that the people who carry this label hurt, but what are we actually missing? It turns out I DID have a medical condition, and it took 15 years of hard looking to find out what it actually was.
How You Get a Fibromyalgia “Diagnosis”
When you are “diagnosed” with Fibromyalgia, it is not because your doctors have actually found something wrong with you, it is because your symptoms fit a set of rather broad criteria that define the condition – and they haven’t been able to figure out what is actually causing your problem.
There are no blood tests with values that are returned where you have too much or too little of x, y, or z. Fibromyalgia is “diagnosed” when there is nothing else clearly wrong with you, you have a lot of pain, you complain of a handful of other conditions such as fatigue and cognitive difficulties (that’s no surprise when you have chronic pain), and your 15-minute visit with your doctor is up.
In Fibromyalgia, there are no clear indicators like joint damage or swelling in the joints – even though it may feel that way. This is peculiar because it is still primarily classified as a “rheumatic condition,” which means there is inflammation in the joints. Anyone who has been diagnosed with this condition knows that the pain is not limited just to the joints – everything hurts. Scientists are just now coming around to the idea that it is probably more neurological in nature, but don’t be surprised if you try to get a consult with a neurologist and they refer you back to a rheumatologist.
Why the Skepticism?
So, why am I so skeptical about fibromyalgia? I am a skeptic about this condition because I am among the 5 million Americans who have been given a Fibro diagnosis. You can read my story here. (Spoiler alert – it was something else.)
What I learned from my experience as a “Fibro patient” was that the medical community as a whole is not interested in finding out what’s really wrong with you so long as they can treat the symptoms. Never mind that you may be taking a handful of pills three times a day that you don’t need to be taking.
It takes too long to actually figure out what’s really wrong in our system that processes us through doctors’ offices like so much chattel. If you get to spend 10 minutes with your doctor, then you’ve beat the rest of us by a whole 3 minutes. Current studies show doctors’ visits are down to 7 minutes on average.
If you have a condition that requires actual interaction with your doctor to figure out, you can pretty much forget it.
There’s a Med for That!
It’s hard to treat something when you don’t know what’s wrong in the first place. Even though scientists don’t know exactly what Fibromyalgia is, fear not! The pharmaceutical industry has a med for that! Many drugs for other conditions have been approved to treat this perplexing illness that has no known cause.
So, does that mean we should deny people with a Fibromyalgia diagnosis access to medications that can help ease their symptoms? No. That’s not the point.
The problem is that if someone shows up in a doctor’s office with the symptoms of Fibromyalgia (or “Fibro”), he or she (usually a she – 80-90% of Fibro patients are female) is given one or more medications for the symptoms she is experiencing and sent on her way. Problem solved – or is it?
Has the doctor actually solved the person’s problem by merely treating symptoms? What if an underlying cause can be cured, meaning that the person no longer needs to take all of those medicines?
There are a few problems with the idea of actually curing people.
- Curing people requires time – much more than 7 minutes in a doctor’s visit.
- It requires critical thinking about the body as a whole, not the “Whack-A-Mole” style of treating each symptom as it comes up. You remember the game at the local kid’s pizza joint where the little moles pop up randomly through holes, and you try to smack them with a mallet before they go back down…that’s what our medical system is like. We see a symptom; we treat it with medication. That medication causes another symptom (like swelling), so we treat it with yet another medication, etc.
- If you cure someone, there is no repeat business. This is not to say that all doctors are this way, but let’s face it – it’s a business. All businesses want repeat business.
- Doctors could miss out on pharmaceutical kickbacks. If doctors were to stop writing scripts and instead order more tests and do more research to figure out what is actually wrong with people, they might lose their homes – I mean, like their second homes, or their fancy boats, and what-have-you. Think this is overstated? Think again. During the period of August through December of 2013, pharmaceutical companies paid 3.5 billion (yes, that is a billion) dollars to doctors and hospitals. That is only five months. We now have this data thanks to the Affordable Healthcare Act.
So, Does Fibromyalgia Really Exist?
Well, we don’t really know. What we do know is that there are a lot of people who are in pain. The pain is real. The good news is that doctors are finally starting to acknowledge that it isn’t just “all in our heads.” That is one positive thing.
The bad news is that the doctors on the front line are not looking any deeper. They are waiting for the answer to be spoon-fed to them by researchers. It’s great that there are researchers trying to figure it out, but you can be sure that the money being spent on research is a lot less than that being spent by pharmaceutical companies to promote their drugs.
There are many functional medicine practitioners who are beginning to look beyond the standard blood test. They are running functional medicine tests and are finding correlations with mast cell disorders. They are finding links to mold, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, and chronic pain.
Further Reading: Mystery, Undiagnosed,
& Invisible Illnesses
- Chronic Fatigue Causes: Hormonal, AutoImmune, and Undiagnosed Illness
- Unraveling Mast Cell Activation Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnostic Challenges
- Long COVID: A Neurological Perspective
- Fibromyalgia: Does It Really Exist?
- My Search for the Truth about Fibromyalgia
- Functional Health and Finding the Root Cause
- What Causes Brain Fog?
- Histamine Intolerance: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes, and Treatment