What Fibromyalgia Is Not

Knowing what fibromyalgia is not can be as important to your understanding of the condition as knowing what it is. Because fibromyalgia is still shrouded in mystery and the symptoms are so diverse and complex, it's easy to mistake fibromyalgia for any of several other medical conditions. But research in recent years has established certain truths about FMS that help distinguish it from other illnesses.

For starters, fibromyalgia is not arthritis, which is inflammation of the joints. Although the aches and pain of fibromyalgia may resemble those of arthritis, and the Arthritis Foundation offers information on FMS, fibro is technically not an inflammatory condition. Rheumatologists — doctors who treat arthritis, often also treat fibromyalgia. If fibromyalgia was an arthritic condition, patients could get more relief from simple anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen.

Fibromyalgia is also not usually progressive. While an occasional fibromyalgia patient may note a gradual improvement or worsening over time, FMS is not a degenerative illness and typically does not worsen with time. But that doesn't mean stress, bad weather, and too much activity won't make you feel worse on some days than others.


Too many doctors don't know how to diagnose it. Employers often don't understand it. Even loved ones have difficulties believing that the pain is real. For these reasons, the National Fibromyalgia Association in 2002 designated May 12 as Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. Each year since then, events have been held throughout the country to raise awareness of fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is not psychosomatic. Skeptics have always questioned whether FMS was the product of a stressed-out lifestyle or an inability to cope. But that has slowly changed since 1990, when the American College of Rheumatology established its diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia, and subsequent studies have proven measurable differences in people with FMS. While stress may worsen fibromyalgia, it does not appear to be the primary cause.

Fibromyalgia is not a disease. A disease is a medical condition with a specific cause or causes and distinct resulting signs and symptoms. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome, a collection of signs, symptoms, and medical problems that tend to occur together but do not appear to be related to a specific, identifiable cause. Fortunately, fibromyalgia is not life threatening. As painful as it might seem on some days, no one dies from having FMS.

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