Dispelling Myths About Fibromyalgia

Dispelling Myths About Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a relatively recent addition to medical literature. Though it was first described in the early 1800s, it wasn’t formally recognized until testing confirmed its existence in 1981. As a result, there are a lot of misconceptions about fibromyalgia, many of which hold that the chronic pain associated with the condition is somehow exaggerated or made up.

It should go without saying that that is a harmful myth that discredits the experiences of those living with the disorder. Fibromyalgia is a genuine medical condition that affects more than 500,000 Canadians. The 4,000 studies devoted to the subject have collectively shown that people with Fibromyalgia have more brain activity in response to pain, and that the pain is more intense than it is for people without the condition.

In other words, fibromyalgia pain is very real, and can be debilitating in more severe cases. It affects men and women of all ages, though it is more common in women and usually presents in the 30s. There is no cure for the condition, but symptoms can be mitigated with lifestyle changes (such as more sleep and exercise) that reduce stress and improve overall health.    

Unfortunately, the legal history of fibromyalgia is a bit more difficult to parse. Many insurance companies have tried to discredit fibromyalgia diagnoses, arguing that doctors use them as a catchall whenever they can’t find a “real” medical cause for chronic pain. Judges have also accepted that logic to deny disability claims in some Fibromyalgia cases.

That’s why it’s so important to dispel the misconceptions. In that regard, it doesn’t help that the condition is indeed difficult to identify. Fibromyalgia cannot be isolated in a lab. The current diagnostic guidelines rely exclusively on self-reported symptoms and physical examination.

Those guidelines were first published by the American College of Rheumatology in 1991, and represent an established medical standard for fibromyalgia patients. The problem is that the process usually takes a considerable amount of time. Many fibromyalgia symptoms can also be indicators of other diseases, all of which need to be ruled out before a positive Fibromyalgia diagnosis can be made. Insurance companies will often try to leverage that uncertainty to avoid fibromyalgia claims.

Thankfully, there are legal protections for people with unrecognized or undetermined medical conditions. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the suffering and distress associated with chronic pain is legitimate, even in the absence of an objective diagnosis. That means that people with severe pain can begin seeking help as long as their pain is negatively impacting their daily lives and their performance at work.

For people with fibromyalgia, that recognition is crucial because it validates their experiences. Fibromyalgia is a chronic medical condition that can lead to long term disability. Anyone who says otherwise is peddling a myth. Improving awareness is the best way to combat the falsehoods and ensure that Fibromyalgia patients receive proper treatment and support.  


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