Fibromyalgia: A New Aid in Diagnosis and Treatment

One of the most misdiagnosed and misunderstood conditions affecting your bones and muscles is a disease called fibromyalgia. Sadly, the symptoms are widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue that is incurable. It is also generally accompanied by anxiety and mood disorders. Many more women than men are diagnosed with this disease.

Many people who suffer from fibromyalgia fight the disease through a combination of exercise, managing stress, creating healthy habits and of course, medications. Without a cure for the disease, fighting the pain can become exhausting and seemingly endless.

However, researchers are working hard to understand the disease more, and to find a cure. Recently, the University of Colorado, Boulder has found a brain signature which can identify fibromyalgia with an accuracy of 93%. This is a huge breakthrough for treatment and future diagnosis.

The university has developed a way to use functional MRI scans to study the brain activity of 35 control patients and 37 patients with a fibromyalgia diagnosis. During the scan, each patient was subjected to non-painful visual, auditory and tactile cues, along with painful pressure.

This testing allowed the researchers to identify three sub-markers, also called neurological patterns. These correlated with the hypersensitivity to pain, which is characterized by fibromyalgia. Lead author of this study, Marina López-Solà said, “The novelty of this study is that it provides potential neuroimaging-based tools that can be used with new patients to inform about the degree of certain neural pathology underlying their pain symptoms.” As a post-doctoral researcher in the Cognitive and Affective Control Laboratory, she says, “The set of tools may be helpful to identify patient subtypes, which may be important for adjusting treatment selection on an individualized basis.”

The current problem with diagnosis and treatment through a pain specialist is that nothing they do can explain what is happening neurologically, nor does it showcase the full effect of a patient’s suffering. “The potential for brain measures like the ones we developed here is that they can tell us something about the particular brain abnormalities that drive an individual’s suffering. That can help us both recognize fibromyalgia for what it is — a disorder of the central nervous system — and treat it more effectively.” Said Tor Wager, director of the Cognitive and Affective Control Laboratory.

“This is a helpful first step that builds off of other important previous work and is a natural step in the evolution of our understanding of fibromyalgia as a brain disorder” said López-Solà.

When it comes to fibromyalgia, the CDC estimates that more than 5 million people suffer from the incurable condition. Although we are still a ways from finding the cause or cure, there are factors that may affect the likelihood of getting this condition. These include:

  • Being a woman
  • Having another painful disease, such as arthritis
  • Having a mood or anxiety disorder already
  • Being emotionally abused or having PTSD
  • Rarely exercising
  • Others in the family suffer from it

Some of the more exact symptoms of the disease include the following:

  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle twitching or tightness
  • A low pain threshold
  • Chronic fatigu
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling worried, depressed or nervous

Why is fibromyalgia misdiagnosed?

As you can see above, the symptoms of fibromyalgia are not very concrete and they can easily overlap to another condition or disease. Chronic fatigue can especially be seen in many other conditions.

Many of the symptoms can also cross over to diseases such as hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus.

The symptoms are also not the exact same in every patient suffering from fibromyalgia. Some people may be chronically fatigued, but not experience any trouble sleeping at night. Another person may experience the muscle pain, but not have any trouble with depression or anxiety.

It also possible that a person suffering with fibromyalgia may indeed have another condition that is covering up the disease. For instance, Lyme Disease, obstructive sleep apnea or arthritis can mimic fibromyalgia. It is common for a healthcare professional to limit their treatments and extent of diagnosing once they have one condition established.

How can you be sure you are properly diagnosed?

This is a question that anyone could be asking for any symptom or condition they think they might have. It is a shame to not receive proper medical treatment if misdiagnosed. Here are some suggestions to ensure you are receiving the proper help:

  • Get a second opinion: it doesn’t hurt to get multiple opinions on your condition, especially if your general care practitioner is not confident with a fibromyalgia diagnosis.
  • Especially if you don’t feel confident with your first appointment, ask for a referral.
  • Journal your symptoms: keep a log of when and where you are in pain and any surrounding factors. Be sure to go over this journal with your provider.

Final Thoughts

While fibromyalgia can seem like a mysterious illness, the truth is that it is difficult to diagnose and not very well understood. The good news is that there are more and more breakthroughs everyday. With the new brain signature being seen at UC Boulder, there’s only good things and more hope to come through.

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