What makes fibromyalgia hard to diagnose?
1 - Fibromyalgia is a diagnosis of exclusion.
With many diseases or chronic conditions you go to a certain specialist, undergo a series of tests and an examination, and finally are diagnosed. There is not a single specialist who can give you a test for fibromyalgia. Instead, several specialists conduct a range of tests to rule out other conditions similar to fibromyalgia.
2 - Not everyone with fibromyalgia has the same symptoms.
Unexplained pain, all over body aches, muscle tension, migraines, anxiety, depression and others are all symptoms of fibromyalgia. Some fibromyalgia patients say it feels like having a constant sunburn when they have a flare up. Others say being touched feels like being punched. Chronic fatigue, memory loss and trouble concentrating often combine to create what patients call “fibro fog.” It’s important to understand that many patients report different combinations of symptoms.
3 - Fibromyalgia symptoms come and go, often without warning.
Fibromyalgia patients often express frustration in describing their condition to doctors, who want to know how long and how often they are in pain. Some patients report pain that can last for days while others will have flare ups that leave them unable to function for hours and worn out for days afterward.
It’s not always clear what causes a fibro flare up, and fibro flares can feel random. One frustrating aspect is that fibro fog, debilitating pain, or other symptoms can arrive without warning and force the patient to cancel plans, miss work, or skip a loved one’s event.
4 - Fibromyalgia is often mistaken for similar conditions.
Several other medical conditions can mimic fibromyalgia symptoms, and fibromyalgia often includes mental health components like anxiety or depression. Paired with a tendency to misdiagnose fibromyalgia as mental illness or call patients hypochondriacs, it can be hard to eliminate other possibilities.
5 - Many people won’t accept that fibromyalgia is a legitimate condition.
One fibromyalgia patient says she is routinely mistreated by doctors who think she is faking her symptoms for attention. She also said she stopped going to the ER after constantly being treated like a drug-seeker. These dismissals can enhance feelings of isolation and make the anxiety, depression and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia more intense. It can often take several visits and numerous tests to get a diagnosis, all while dealing with the symptoms of fibromyalgia. The World Health Organization classifies fibromyalgia as a “disorder” and has done so since 1994. Still, the lack of an objective test to diagnose fibromyalgia makes some hesitant to call it a “disease.”