You’ve probably heard them all before – you may have even believed some of them. Whether you know someone with fibromyalgia or suffer from it yourself, you’ve probably been exposed to myths about the condition. Though awareness is spreading and the medical field is gaining new insights into fibromyalgia – many of these early myths or misconceptions are still being perpetuated.
While some misconceptions may always persist, it is important to separate fact from fiction. Knowing the facts about fibromyalgia can help the sufferer understand his/her condition better and help the outside observer to be more understanding towards friends or loved ones with fibromyalgia.
Lets take a look at five of the most common myths or misconceptions about fibromyalgia:
It’s All In Your Head
Perhaps the biggest misconception among those who don’t suffer from fibromyalgia is that the condition is all in the head of the sufferer – meaning that they believe the symptoms are imagined. They may think that a simple change in attitude and injection of positive thinking can eliminate the problem.
While they’re wrong that the symptoms are merely a figment of the imagination, there is some truth to fibromyalgia being “all in your head” – though it’s not what you might think. According to Connie A. Luedtke, R.N., nursing supervisor at the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, “In people who have fibromyalgia, the brain and spinal cord process pain signals differently. As a result, they react more strongly to touch and pressure, with a heightened sensitivity to pain. It is a real physiological and neurochemical problem.”
Pain is the only symptom
Another myth about fibromyalgia is that pain is the only symptom. Though the widespread pain is perhaps the most common – and debilitating – symptom, it is only one of many. Other symptoms of fibromyalgia can include:
- Chronic Fatigue
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Menstrual cramps
- Difficulty concentrating and memory loss (Fibro Fog)
- Insomnia and other sleep related problems
- Morning stiffness
- Numbness or tingling
Unfortunately, these symptoms can play off of each other and further aggravate the problem. For example, the constant pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia often cause increased stress on the sufferer. This heightened level of stress or anxiety, in turn, exacerbates the pain and fatigue. Breaking this cycle can be difficult – but with the right tools and treatment many have managed to reduce its impact and improve their quality of life.
Only middle-aged women get fibromyalgia
Though fibromyalgia appears to be most prevalent in middle-aged women, it can and does affect people outside of that demographic. Fibromyalgia can affect anyone – regardless of age or gender. Research indicates that among women as young as 20 years of age and as old as 80 years of age have been affected.
Men aren’t immune from fibromyalgia either. In fact, researchers in this German study were unable to find any relevant gender differences in the clinical picture of FMS. According to that study, men suffering from the condition reported a smaller duration of widespread pain – perhaps suggesting that men may be less inclined to seek medical advice or treatment as their pain levels/duration may be smaller.
Fibromyalgia isn’t treatable
One myth that is common, even among those with fibromyalgia, is that it isn’t treatable. While there may not be a known cure for fibromyalgia yet – many of its symptoms are still treatable. Through treatment many fibromyalgia patients have been able to reduce the severity of their symptoms and in some cases even find complete relief from the pain.
Treatment options for fibromyalgia can run the gamut. They can include prescription medications, diet or nutritional supplements, low impact exercises like yoga and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage or biofeedback. Working with an understanding doctor to explore the various treatments can make a significant impact on your symptoms.
Unsure of what treatments are used for fibromyalgia? Check out these 5 Common Treatments for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia isn’t a real diagnosis
Some people still believe that fibromyalgia isn’t a real diagnosis. They believe that fibromyalgia is a last ditch diagnosis given only when doctors are have exhausted all other attempts to come up with another diagnosis. Some refer to this as a “garbage-can diagnosis”.
The reality is that fibromyalgia is a real disorder – but due to its complexity and wide range of symptoms it can be difficult to diagnose. According to the National Association of Disability Examiners, the average duration between treatment and actual diagnosis of fibromyalgia is seven years. While it may take years before a proper diagnosis is given – this doesn’t mean the diagnosis isn’t real.
As the medical community continues to research and understand fibromyalgia, tests and procedures for more quickly diagnosing the disorder will improve – leading to shorter durations between first treatment and diagnosis. Even so, the medical and research communities have made great strides in recent years. In 2010 the American School of Rheumatology released a new set of criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia and measuring the severity of symptoms. Researchers are continuing to make new headway in understanding and treating this difficult condition.
Knowing the truth about fibromyalgia is important for furthering awareness and giving both insiders and outsiders alike an accurate perception of this often-misunderstood condition. Dispelling the myths about fibromyalgia can help improve the lives of fibromyalgia patients by removing preconceived notions that may be holding them back from getting help. It can also increase the compassion and understanding of non-sufferers – resulting in better support from friends and loved ones.