Figuring Out Fibromyalgia

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Playing Understanding Fibromyalgia

Maggie says she has suffered from fibromyalgia for more than 10 years. She explains how difficult it was to get an accurate diagnosis, because X-rays and blood tests revealed no answers. Maggie describes how the chronic pain she experiences in her legs, hips, arms, wrists and head make it difficult for her to enjoy her life like she used to. She adds that a lack of information regarding fibromyalgia makes her situation even harder for her.

“It’s awful, because people just don’t understand,” she says. “It’s been going on for so long that people think I’m just making up my symptoms.”

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain and tenderness, which can be accompanied by fatigue, impaired memory and other physical issues. Additionally, fibromyalgia may occur with other chronic pain conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but researchers believe it could be the result of several factors, including genetics, illness and physical or emotional trauma, which lead to an abnormal processing of pain.

An estimated 5 million Americans suffer from the disorder, according to Pfizer’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, and women are five times more likely than men to receive the diagnosis. Dr. Lewis-Hall explains that getting a proper diagnosis for fibromyalgia can be difficult, due to the wide-ranging symptoms it presents. 

Common symptoms:

  • Widespread pain that lasts for at least three months
  • Fatigue and waking unrefreshed
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Mood disturbances
  • Stiffness
  • Irritable bowel and bladder
  • Pain or cramps in the lower abdomen
  • Headaches and migraines

ER physician Dr. Travis Stork explains that to diagnose fibromyalgia, a physician may perform a tender point exam, in which he or she presses on specific points throughout the body. If 11 out of 18 of the areas cause tenderness or pain, a diagnosis might be made. Dr. Lewis-Hall adds that the physician may also ask the patient a series of questions to assess their pain and symptoms. 

  • Click here to learn more about assessing your pain. 

Dr. Lewis-Hall says that the disorder can present differently depending on the patient, so treatment will require working with one’s physician and medical team to create a comprehensive and individualized plan. Treatment may include supportive and cognitive behavioral therapies, medications and light aerobic exercise.

To learn more about the symptoms and treatment options for fibromyalgia, visit

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