Various studies have shown people with fibromyalgia see many doctors before receiving an accurate diagnosis. Even with doctors who understand fibromyalgia, other diseases must be ruled out before looking at a fibromyalgia diagnosis. And because some doctors still don’t believe a patient’s pain and symptoms are real, it may take time to find a doctor who will actually listen and take the time determine the truth behind a patient’s symptoms.
Reasons for the Difficulty in Diagnosis
Doctors and researchers don’t consider fibromyalgia a disease. They view it as a syndrome, which – as defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary – is “a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition.”
Several rheumatic diseases have symptoms similar to fibromyalgia, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, Lyme disease, and polymyalgia rheumatic. Mental health disorders, (i.e. depression) and neurological disorders, (i.e. multiple sclerosis) can also mimic the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
The main symptoms of fibromyalgia are pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. Doctors must rule out other possible reasons for a patient’s symptoms before even considering fibromyalgia. Further, symptoms and their severity vary for each person and change over time.
There are no specific lab tests for fibromyalgia, but a doctor who is educated about the disorder can make a diagnosis based on the criteria set by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), which currently involves a medical history of widespread pain lasting beyond 3 months, tenderness and some common symptoms. The ACR recognizes widespread pain, as pain felt on both sides of the body, as well as above and below the waist.