Many people suffer with muscle pain, stiffness and chronic fatigue for months before they are able to get a fibromyalgia diagnosis.

The condition is widely misunderstood, and patients often face an uphill battle as loved ones, employers and even medical professionals may accuse them of faking symptoms or seeking attention.

But the simple fact is: Fibromyalgia is real. An estimated 4 million people in the United States suffer from fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is more common in women, at an estimated 3.4 percent of the population. Fibromyalgia among men is less common at about .5 percent.

In “Facts and myths pertaining to fibromyalgia”, authors Winfried Hauser and Mary-Ann Fitzcharles write that fibromyalgia is controversial and that “wars” are fought over whether or not fibromyalgia is a real condition.

The same authors say even patients with a fibromyalgia diagnosis will be told by another medical professional that “fibromyalgia does not exist.” Other patients may be told their fibromyalgia pain is psychosomatic, which can feel like being told it’s “all in their head.”

“Many of those with fibromyalgia are afraid that the culture does not believe that fibromyalgia is a real disease. And they are afraid people will label them as ‘lazy’,” says rheumatologist Carmen Gota, MD. “There’s an issue of credibility that can cause a lot of stress for them.”