Ask Surly Amy and Dr Steve Novella: Fibromyalgia
Short question here:
What is the deal with Fibromyalgia? I have read that its existence is disputed, but is it a real condition and if so, what is it?
This is a great question as it is something that I have wondered about too. My understanding is that Fibromyalgia is sort of an umbrella term for either unknown, or a combination of conditions. But hey, we all know that I am not a doctor and even my Google-Fu comes up a little short on this question.
So I did what I often do when asked a medical question. I futz around online and realize that 90% of all internet links tell me that every symptom ever experienced by anyone ever, is either cancer or something that can be cured by homeopathy or Reiki. So I close my browser, pour a glass of wine and pet my dog. Then, I go pester an actual MD until they agree to help me find an answer.
And today, dear readers, I went and asked this question to not only a real doctor, but the ultimate Skeptic-Jedi himself, Dr Steven Novella.
For those who do not know him, Dr. Steven Novella is an academic neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the host of the widely popular, Skeptics’ Guide to The Universe podcast, he is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society, he is the author of NeuroLogicaBlog, a popular science blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. He is a popular speaker at skeptic conferences and one hell of a bad-ass saxophone player.
One of those things may or may not not be true.
Here is what Steve had to say:
That’s a really complex question. Here is a short answer.
The diagnosis was developed about 21 years ago, and yet remains controversial. There is no “gold standard” for its diagnosis. It remains a clinical syndrome with some specific and some vague criteria. Basically it is a syndrome of chronic muscle and myofacial pain. Some experts dismiss the diagnosis altogether, wile many believe that it exists but agree that it is not clearly defined and diagnosis is problematic. It is likely a combination of many disorders with similar symptoms. A subset appear to have specific tender point (or trigger point) tenderness which should be used as diagnostic criteria. However, many people with the diagnosis do not have the specific findings and simply have less specific symptoms of chronic pain. It is also comorbid with things like depression and sleep disorders, but it’s not clear what is causing what.
So – the diagnosis is taken seriously, but is controversial, poorly understood, and is definitely fuzzy around the edges diagnostically.
Hope this helps. Have a great holiday.
Wow. Skeptic-Jedis sure are nice.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Steve!
I hope this helped you, Meagan. You can find more information on the condition if you click that Google-Fu link above in the first paragraph of the post. Just please remember, take all your google results with a grain of skepticism. ;)
That is it for now. I’m off to the Surly mines…
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Surly Amy art by Jill. Photo of Dr Novella as Dr Horrible by Surly Amy