Why does it take so long for doctors to diagnose fibromyalgia?

woman_with_fibromyalgaFibromyalgia is a lesser-known chronic pain disorder that has no known cause. The good news is that many patients with the condition report increased quality of life after treatment.

The bad news is that treatment cannot begin until the patient is diagnosed, and it can take years to diagnose fibromyalgia, because it shares symptoms with many other common conditions.

Conditions That Are Often Confused With Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia’s primary symptom—pain in the muscles and joints—is a common trait of many conditions.

Medical providers often only diagnose fibromyalgia when all other medical explanations for pain have been exhausted. For instance, fibromyalgia may only be diagnosed only after a physician has ruled out:

  • Hypothyroidism. Low thyroid function, known as hypothyroidism, shares many symptoms of fibromyalgia, including becoming tired easily, unexplained weight gain, increased cold sensitivity, decreased heart rate, and depression. This condition can be ruled out using a blood test to check thyroid hormone levels.
  • Sleep apnea. Extreme fatigue may be caused by sleep apnea, a disorder that causes a person to stop breathing while they're asleep. A sleep study may be conducted to see how many times a person wakes up during the night and if a person is reaching deep, or REM, sleep.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Pain in the joints is common in both fibromyalgia and arthritis sufferers, but there are notable differences. Unlike arthritis, fibromyalgia doesn't cause tissue inflammation and doesn't cause physical damage to the joints.
  • Lupus. Lupus may cause a patient to feel fatigue and body pain, but it's distinct from fibromyalgia because it causes a rash across the face and breathing problems. Physicians may conduct a blood test to check for antinuclear antibodies, which will be positive in lupus patients.
  • Multiple sclerosis. Chronic pain throughout the body is typical of both multiple sclerosis (MS) and fibromyalgia. However, MS suffers may also experience blurred eyesight, difficulty walking, loss of control over body movements, and slurred speech.
  • Psychological conditions. Mental health specialists often misdiagnose fibromyalgia as depression, while some patients experience both conditions simultaneously.
  • Coexisting conditions. Diagnosing fibromyalgia can take even longer if a patient is suffering from other health problems as well as fibromyalgia, since doctors must discover which ailments are responsible for each new symptom.

If you're unable to work due to complications of fibromyalgia, our attorneys can help you get the Social Security disability benefits you deserve. Call us today or fill out the form on this page to set up your consultation with a knowledgeable Social Security attorney.