How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
You’ve been having pain throughout your body. It makes it difficult to sleep, so you’re tired all the time. The combination of pain and lack of sleep have affected your mood…or have they? Maybe that’s a symptom of whatever underlying illness is affecting your body? Your doctor starts you on a widespread battery of tests.
Finally, he sits you down and tells you all of your tests were negative. Your pain, he says, must be caused by fibromyalgia.
This is how most fibromyalgia patients are “diagnosed” with the disease—there’s no easy, proven test for fibromyalgia, so it’s often determined through the process of elimination. If doctors can’t find anything else causing the pain, fibromyalgia is often blamed. It’s only diagnosed through its symptoms and the elimination of any other ailment. However, there are some guidelines laid out by the American College of Rheumatology for what is and isn’t fibromyalgia.
First, the pain has to occur in three of the four quadrants of the body: upper left, upper right, lower left, and lower right. If there’s only pain in one quadrant, something else is usually to blame. Second, the pain has to have been consistent or recurring for at least three months. Fibromyalgia symptoms can come and go, often without any warning, but they have to occur for several months in order to rule out other causes.
In the past, diagnosis also relied on having pain in 11 of the 18 of the fibromyalgia tender points. However, because pain often comes and goes, patients who had pain in 5 tender points one day may have pain in 13 of them the next. It was also difficult to decide how much pressure on a tender point needed to be applied. This test is still sometimes done, but doctors now make a fibromyalgia diagnoses based on pain, fatigue, and lack of other ailment.
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