Fibromyalgia, a chronic health condition that is characterized primarily by widespread pain throughout the body and fatigue, is notorious for being difficult to diagnose. There are two main reasons why a person must jump through seemingly endless hoops to finally arrive at a fibromyalgia diagnosis:
- Fibromyalgia symptoms mimic those of other prevalent conditions
- There is no single test that is diagnostic for fibromyalgia
Since these two factors can muddy the waters, finally arriving at a fibromyalgia diagnosis is the culmination of many months of describing your symptoms and receiving various tests so that different health conditions can be ruled out. Not only does this take time, but it also takes a significant investment of effort and finances. Shockingly, it can take several years for a patient with fibromyalgia to receive a proper diagnosis.
The Fibromyalgia Diagnosis Process
If you live with fibromyalgia, you likely know all too well the taxing process of going from doctor to doctor looking for answers. It can take a long time to go from living with the day-to-day symptoms of fibromyalgia to actually receiving a definitive diagnosis. Even with healthcare professionals who are very familiar with the condition, a proper diagnosis can take time, which can be extremely frustrating. If you or a loved one suspect you may be dealing with fibromyalgia, here are some steps you are likely to encounter on your journey towards getting the right diagnosis and care:
Your Doctor Will Interview You About Symptoms
A provider who has fibromyalgia experience will be listening for specific symptoms and terms during your conversations with them. The most common fibromyalgia-related symptoms include:
- Pain, particularly pain that is widespread, all over the body, and relatively constant
- Fatigue described as extreme, unrelenting exhaustion
- Cognitive and memory changes that leave you feeling “foggy”
- Non-restorative sleep – despite the fact that it seems like you fall asleep easily enough and get an ample amount of rest, you may still wake up feeling as if you didn’t sleep at all.
- Hypersensitive to touch – things that can be considered ordinary, such as a hug or a handshake, may be perceived as painful
Tender Points – an Outdated but Still Used Tool
For many years, the presence of certain tender points throughout the body was indicative of fibromyalgia. A total of 18 tender points in the neck, upper back, mid-back, shoulders, chest, elbows, buttocks, hips, and knees are assessed for pain and tenderness. If 11 of the 18 points are tender when pressure is applied, it would point to a fibromyalgia diagnosis. However, in 2010, the guidelines for diagnosing fibromyalgia shifted away from looking for these tender points because they were too subjective. Fibromyalgia symptoms can come and go, and practitioners were uncertain about how much pressure to apply when examining tender points. Newer diagnostic criteria are more inclusive of other symptoms aside from pain, including fatigue, unrefreshing sleep, and cognitive difficulties.
Ruling Out Other Possible Conditions
When it comes to fibromyalgia, it is essential to exclude other potential causes of your symptoms. The most common fibromyalgia symptoms mimic those of other culprits:
- Lyme disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Myasthenia gravis
- Thyroid disease
- Certain types of cancer
- Anxiety or depression
Testing for some of these other health issues takes time, but it is important to rule them out so that you can receive the care you need to see improvements.
Tests that You Might Encounter
One of the major difficulties of diagnosing fibromyalgia is that there is no definitive test for it. This makes it a diagnosis of exclusion, and as we mentioned above, some other health issues may need to be ruled out first. Tests and examinations you may go through leading up to diagnosis include:
- Blood tests: your doctor may order a complete blood count (CBC), and test for thyroid function, vitamin D levels, and other factors
- Physical exam: your doctor should examine your joints and muscles to try and identify any other possible causes of your pain
- Neurological testing: if your memory and cognition has changed, your doctor may order tests to study how well your nervous system is functioning
- Diagnostic imaging: x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to rule in or rule out other issues that can be causing your pain and tenderness
As new science emerges, researchers may be close to developing a blood test that can detect certain “molecular fingerprints” that are unique to fibromyalgia sufferers.
True Healthcare for People with Fibromyalgia
Whether you’re still on the road to diagnosis and suspect you have fibromyalgia, or if you’ve been living with it for many years, there is hope to be found with upper cervical chiropractic care. In complex, chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, treatment is typically aimed at mitigating individual symptoms. Upper cervical chiropractic care is unique in that it takes into account the central nervous system – the master control system for the entire body – and seeks to address the individual as the whole rather than chase down symptoms.
When the upper neck is compromised (many people living with fibromyalgia have a past history of injury or trauma), it can impair the normal communication and processing of pain signals. When the atlas vertebra is out of alignment, it can irritate the brainstem and surrounding nerves. You can think of the brainstem as the switchboard for all of the signals traveling between the brain and body. When it is not functioning correctly, your body may mistake non-painful stimuli as being tender or painful.
The process of fibromyalgia diagnosis is difficult, but getting to the root cause of the problem doesn’t need to be. Many people with fibromyalgia who have sought out the care of an upper cervical chiropractor have experienced tremendous increases in their quality of life and a diminishment of their symptoms. To learn more about how we can help you get back on track naturally, take a moment to locate a practitioner near you, and schedule an obligation-free consultation.
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