Myths and Facts About Fibromyalgia

Myths and Facts About Fibromyalgia

For many years, fibromyalgia was misunderstood, even among medical professionals. And despite clinical research and a broader body of knowledge, there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding this mysterious condition, which makes it difficult to diagnose and tricky to explain to loved ones. 

One thing we do know is that fibromyalgia causes widespread pain and fatigue, and that’s where we come in. At American Rehabilitation Medicine in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Dr. Stanley Mathew and our team of pain specialists feel a strong connection to patients suffering from fibromyalgia. We know that the pain you endure isn’t just physical, it affects you mentally and emotionally as you encounter quizzical looks, suspicious reactions, and unconvinced friends and family members. 

Here, we’ve compiled a few of the more common myths circulating about fibromyalgia and some fact-filled rebuttals to help you — and others — understand your condition better.

Fibromyalgia myth: It’s all in your head

Just because fibromyalgia is difficult to describe, it doesn't mean it’s not real. If you’re like most sufferers, you’ve probably tried to make your loved ones and coworkers understand that you’re in constant pain all over, you can’t seem to concentrate (often called fibro fog), and you have frequent headaches and joint stiffness. You may even suffer from depression and bowel issues.

But without any outward signs, people tend to doubt your word and conclude you’re overreacting or imagining your symptoms.

The fact is, fibromyalgia is a real condition widely known and recognized by the medical community. In 1990, fibromyalgia received validation by the American College of Rheumatology, which established the first formal set of diagnostic guidelines. In 2019, the Analgesic, Anesthetic, and Addiction Clinical Trials Innovations Opportunities and Networks group partnered with the American Pain Society to develop even more refined criteria that would help classify, screen for, and diagnose fibromyalgia. 

There are three main criteria we look for when we suspect fibromyalgia:

  1. Widespread, severe pain
  2. Symptoms that last three months or longer
  3. Symptoms that can’t be explained by other disorders or conditions

We also look for signs that your body doesn’t feel refreshed, even after a long night’s sleep. The fatigue and sleep disturbances that often accompany fibromyalgia can exacerbate your symptoms and lead to depression, unsafe driving, and increased risk for falls and injuries.

Fibromyalgia myth: Fibromyalgia is a woman’s disease

Men are notorious for avoiding the doctor. Whatever the reason — whether it’s because they aren’t comfortable talking about their health, they feel it’s not masculine to ask for help, or they anticipate judgment from their doctor — more than 70% of them say they’d rather clean the bathroom than visit a doctor. That may explain why we don’t have a record of more men suffering from fibromyalgia.

The fact is, while we see more women than men with fibromyalgia, men get it, too — they just don’t seek help for it as often. If you’re a man with any of the high-risk factors for fibromyalgia, such as a history of rheumatoid disorders, depression, or a family member with fibromyalgia, we urge you to come see us for a full physical and evaluation.

Fibromyalgia myth: You have arthritis or something else, not fibromyalgia

One of the reasons fibromyalgia poses a diagnostic challenge is that its symptoms mimic those of other conditions. 

For example, the same aches, pain, and joint stiffness that come with fibromyalgia also indicate rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Sjogren’s syndrome. 

The mood problems of fibromyalgia may indicate a major depressive disorder, and the tingling sensation you feel may be attributed to multiple sclerosis or myasthenia gravis.

The fact is, fibromyalgia may share symptoms with other health problems, but it’s a distinct condition. Dr. Mathew performs a thorough examination and runs diagnostic tests to rule out other underlying conditions before reaching a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Keep in mind, though, that it’s possible to suffer from multiple conditions simultaneously. 

Fibromyalgia myth: Nothing can be done about this incurable condition

While fibromyalgia can’t be cured, its symptoms can be treated successfully. It’s important to partner with an expert who understands this condition well and has experience treating its many and varied effects. 

Dr. Mathew is a triple-board-certified physiatrist who specializes in treating all types of pain, including fibromyalgia, while keeping medication and surgery at bay whenever possible. He uses the most advanced technology and evidence-based treatments, including:

Dr. Mathew believes in tapping into your body’s own natural resources to help heal your pain at the root source. If you suffer from fibromyalgia or want to confirm your suspicion, schedule an appointment at American Rehabilitation Medicine today by calling our friendly staff or booking your visit online.

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