Quick — can you name a medical condition that:
- afflicts about 10 million Americans
- causes widespread joint pain, memory problems, mood and sleep disturbances, and headaches
- mimics the symptoms of some other pain conditions
- stumps powerful medical tools
- puzzles a wide swath of the medical community
If you said, fibromyalgia, take a bow — and welcome to the complicated, distressing, puzzling and frustrating world of millions of sufferers.
Because even powerful tools like magnetic resonance imaging can't seem to find the cause of the patients' pain, it may take years to get a proper diagnosis, says researcher Daniel Clauw, M.D., a rheumatologist and professor of anesthesiology and medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.
"Doctors often don't know how to treat fibromyalgia, or they treat it wrong with opioids," Clauw says. Some doctors don't consider it a separate medical condition, but see it as a chronic pain condition brought on by stress.
Clauw doesn't buy into the notion that fibromyalgia isn't a real medical problem. In the field of pain medicine, "fibromyalgia's realities are well established," he says.
Here, a few facts that he and other researchers say may help release fibromyalgia from foggy misconceptions.
1. FACT: Fibromyalgia is a neurological disease affecting a person's sensory processing system
Fibromyalgia does not involve inflammation or damage to joints. Brain imaging and studies have shown that fibromyalgia is a disorder of the central nervous system.