Imagine going into the doctor’s office with the same recurring symptoms only to hear this news that they can’t find anything wrong. Blood tests, ongoing doctor/patient discussions, and documenting complaints over several years without finding a name for your suffering. But, it does have a name. It’s called fibromyalgia.
Frustration is added to already existing physical pain. You know, of course, that it’s “not in your head.” But, do they? The doctors? Your friends and family? In the 1800’s physicians referred to a condition they termed: muscular rheumatism. Their documentation spells out the same symptoms of fibromyalgia. But without a specific way to diagnosis the condition, doctors commonly believed the complaints must be psychological and lacked medical validity. Sufferers of fibromyalgia were not only unable to find relief; they were not counted as believable.
Related link: You may say I’m a dreamer
Today, fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain disorders. Different than a throbbing headache or a sprained wrist, fibromyalgia pain is widespread, chronic, and may have specific points of severe tenderness. Pain and other symptoms vary per patient, but the term “‘widespread” indicates the pain can be everywhere, both lower and upper body.
In 1987, a doctor named Burton Goldberg authored an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He described the syndrome, actually naming it, “Fibromyalgia.” Still, some in the medical professional were unconvinced since neither x-ray nor blood tests on fibromyalgia patients reveal any out-of-the-ordinary results; no proof.
Today, experts estimate up to 12 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia. Despite myriad medical findings, is it surprising to you that it wasn’t until three years ago that fibromyalgia was finally recognized as an official diagnosis? In the past, some medical professionals deemed it a “wastebasket disease.”
This is a partial list of common fibromyalgia symptoms: deep muscle pain and widespread soreness, sensitivity to touch, morning body stiffness, radiating pain, non-restorative sleep, extreme fatigue, depression, anxiety, stress, trouble thinking clearly (known as “fibro fog”), difficulty doing day-to-day tasks, headaches, and feeling feverish. Some experience a change in the severity of their pain due to weather changes and barometric pressure. Stress and activity level are also factors.
In October 2015, fibromyalgia was made an official diagnosis in the ICD-10 list of codes, a resource used by every doctor and hospital to indicate a diagnosis. Previously, doctors used a general code called “Myalgia and myositis, unspecified,” which basically means any disorder of general muscle pain or inflammation. “Now, in the new ICD-10 list of codes, fibromyalgia gets its own diagnostic code,” says Ginevra Liptan, MD. “This is a huge bureaucratic stamp of approval that legitimizes fibromyalgia as a real, distinct entity.”
This recognition puts the word “fibromyalgia” into the official health care narrative, which means doctors can no longer say that fibromyalgia does not exist. ”Further, this official step of giving fibromyalgia it’s own diagnostic code, will help sufferers to qualify for disability and enable more accurate studies of fibromyalgia treatment outcomes,” says Liptan.
Unfortunately, fibromyalgia inhibits a normal quality of life. Without a cast or a bandaid, patients with a fibromyalgia diagnosis are viewed as ”normal-looking,” “healthy” people. The human eye cannot see the suffering. Invisible diseases such as diabetes, anxiety, depression, mental disorders, fibromyalgia, and grief need education and advocacy and less judgement from outsiders.
Fibromyalgia is not a “wastebasket” disease. Rather, it’s a debilitating chronic diagnosis deserving of medical treatment and validation, just as other known medical conditions.