The Mirror Condition: Fibromyalgia and Getting the Right Diagnosis

February 15, 2018
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As one of the most complex pain syndromes influencing the health and well-being of adults, fibromyalgia can make it challenging to live a fulfilling, comfortable life. Fibromyalgia has a disproportionate impact on women, especially as they age, but the condition can affect men as well. Between 2 and 6% of the population is diagnosed with fibromyalgia, although many medical circles are still grappling with a concrete definition of the condition. That’s because its symptoms differ from patient to patient, and individuals are often misdiagnosed at the time symptoms begin to impact their lives.

Understanding the warning signs of fibromyalgia and the steps to take in receiving the right diagnosis makes all the difference in starting a treatment plan that is effective.

Recognizable Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

One of the most telling signs of fibromyalgia is widespread pain throughout the body, making it difficult to move or sustain normal energy levels. However, it comes with a slew of other symptoms that individuals should not ignore. Common symptoms include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Memory problems and concentration or thinking issues
  • Tension and migraine headaches
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, and temperature
  • Stiffness and achiness in the joints in the morning or throughout the day
  • Tingling or numb limbs
  • Disturbances in sleep patterns
  • Problems impacting urinating
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Anxiety and depression

One or more of these prevalent symptoms of fibromyalgia can be debilitating, especially when there is no diagnosis and subsequent course of treatment in place. Unfortunately, it is not easily diagnosed because it presents symptoms that are similar to other common conditions. This is why it is known as the mimic or mirror syndrome in medical communities.

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Understanding the Diagnosis Process

Individuals who present with one or a combination of the symptoms listed above may indeed have fibromyalgia, but recent research highlights a glaring problem with diagnosis rates. Only a small number of patients who receive a fibromyalgia diagnosis actually have the syndrome, with as many as two-thirds experiencing another medical problem. Part of the issue with misdiagnosis is that it looks a lot like other conditions when it is first noticed, and a true diagnosis requires the ruling out of these other conditions. This process often takes a great deal of time, leaving patients without adequate treatment or respite from the pain.

A group of medical negligence specialists explain that the diagnosis process for fibromyalgia is complex because there are several other health issues that could – and do – cause similar warning signs and symptoms. For example, osteoarthritis is a common age-related condition that causes cartilage deterioration in the joints, resulting in tissue and bone damage. The condition leaves individuals with achiness and stiffness, as well as pain that may be constant, just like fibromyalgia. In many cases, adults who have fibromyalgia are given a diagnosis of arthritis instead, which could ultimately lead to an inadequate treatment recommendation that provides little to no relief from pain or other symptoms impacting one’s quality of life.

Arthritis is one of the most common culprits of fibromyalgia misdiagnosis, but it is not the only one. Conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, which presents much like fibromyalgia, is also known to throw doctors off in terms of delivering the right diagnosis. Lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the normal cells of the body are attacked by the immune system, is another mimic of it. Health issues like hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, and depression may also be misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia or vice versa.

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The American College of Rheumatology has offered some guidance to the medical community regarding how it can be more accurately diagnosed from the start. For patients experiencing widespread pain without a clear cause, providers are directed to identify 11 out of 18 known pain points of fibromyalgia patients. The back and front of the neck, the hips and knees, lower and upper back, and shoulders may all be indicators of fibromyalgia, especially when other health conditions are ruled out. Diagnosis also requires that individuals have experienced pain or other symptoms for at least three months.

Currently, there is no cure for fibromyalgia; however, there are several treatment options ranging from at-home lifestyle changes to pain medication and management. Every individual experiencing the pain and discomfort does so differently, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Getting the most efficient course of action for reducing the pain, however, starts with getting an accurate diagnosis as early as possible.