Failing to Put a Name to the Pain

Fibromyalgia may go undiagnosed in many patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) The first step to treating a disease is to properly diagnose that disease. Some diseases - such as fibromyalgia - are hard to diagnose, which may mean that people are living with a disease but do not know it.

Findings from a recent study suggested that many people with fibromyalgia may be going without a diagnosis. Men were especially likely to go undiagnosed.

Fibromyalgia is a condition in which a person has long-term pain and tenderness throughout the body. Because fibromyalgia shares many symptoms with other conditions, it can be mistaken for arthritis and other diseases.

While fibromyalgia can be difficult to treat, there are effective ways to care for patients. This study highlighted the need for improved diagnosis of fibromyalgia in order to relieve pain and lower healthcare costs.

"See your doctor if you're experiencing body-wide pain."

According to lead author Ann Vincent, MD, of Mayo Clinic, it remains unclear why men with fibromyalgia were less likely than women to get a diagnosis.

"Healthcare providers may not think of this diagnosis when face to face with a male patient with musculoskeletal pain and fatigue. These findings need to be explored further," said Dr. Vincent.

For their study, Dr. Vincent and colleagues used a couple methods to figure out how many people over the age of 21 in Olmsted County, Minnesota were living with fibromyalgia. In the first part of the study, the researchers found a little more than 3,000 patients who had signs of fibromyalgia. About one-third of these patients had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

In the second part of the study, the researchers looked at survey responses from 830 adults in Olmsted County. The survey asked participants about key symptoms of fibromyalgia, including:

  • widespread pain and tenderness
  • fatigue
  • sleep problems or feeling unrested after waking
  • memory problems and trouble thinking clearly
  • mood issues like depression or anxiety

A total of 44 participants (5.3 percent) met the criteria for fibromyalgia. However only a dozen (about 1.4 percent) were diagnosed with the condition. Based on these findings, the researchers estimated that 6.4 percent of adults over the age of 21 in Olmstead Country were living with fibromyalgia.

That's far more patients than had received an official diagnosis.

Dr. Vincent and colleagues also found that about 20 times more men may have fibromyalgia than had been diagnosed. About three times more women appeared to have fibromyalgia than were diagnosed.

Past studies have shown that proper diagnoses of fibromyalgia may lower healthcare costs because fibromyalgia patients often need fewer tests and less specialist help to look for the cause of their pain, explained co-author Daniel Clauw, MD, of the University of Michigan Health System.

"It is important to diagnose fibromyalgia because we have effective treatments for the disorder," said Dr. Clauw.

This research - which was published in Arthritis Care & Research - was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Mayo Clinic Center for Translational Science Activities. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 19, 2012
Last Updated:
February 10, 2014