Imagine being in pain and having your doctor tell you it’s all in your head. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience for many of the six million Americans living with fibromyalgia, a chronic, painful condition.
People with fibromyalgia experience widespread pain, aches, and stiffness in muscles and joints throughout the body, as well as unusual tiredness. No one knows what causes this condition, and no apparent physical cause has been identified thus far. The most likely culprit is a brain malfunction that amplifies normal nerve responses, causing people with fibromyalgia to experience pain or other symptoms when nothing seemingly triggers them.
For those seeking relief, finding help can sometimes be a challenge. The best way to find a successful treatment strategy is to seek out a doctor who understands fibromyalgia, knows how to treat it, and can help you understand and cope with this condition. There are ways that you can improve your chances of finding the right match.
Understand your condition
The first step in this process is to arm yourself with the facts.
- Fibromyalgia is a real disorder. The American College of Rheumatology has created criteria that doctors can use to diagnose it (see this link for a patient-friendly version). It is recognized by national and international health agencies, including the World Health Organization.
- Fibromyalgia often coexists with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, but it is not caused by a mental illness.
- Fibromyalgia is not “in your head,” but it is related to brain activity. Differences in how the brain processes pain can be seen on functional MRI scans of people with fibromyalgia.
- The FDA has approved three drugs specifically for treating fibromyalgia: pregabalin (Lyrica), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and milnacipran (Savella). These drugs are effective against nerve pain, and are used for other conditions as