Choosing the right doctor can help you cope with fibromyalgia.
People who have fibromyalgia face more than just severe muscle pain, unrelenting fatigue, and disturbed sleep. Because there currently are no diagnostic tests for fibromyalgia, many patients also struggle with misdiagnoses, unsympathetic physicians, and ineffective treatments. But with up to 4 percent of the population now said to be suffering from this condition, researchers are working hard to get a better handle on fibromyalgia and how to treat it.
If you have fibromyalgia, you don’t have to feel buffeted by fate or suffer in silence. Here are a few essential steps you can take to get control of your situation, to find the medical help you need, and to get some relief for your symptoms.
Start With Your Primary Care Doctor
Less than a decade ago, many physicians didn’t recognize fibromyalgia as a real condition. But the tide appears to be changing. “In the United States, recent surveys suggest that the majority of physicians now believe fibromyalgia is a real medical condition and are comfortable making the diagnosis,” says Daniel J. Clauw, M.D., director of the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center and director of the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research at the University of Michigan.
Why seek treatment for fibromyalgia from primary care physicians? Those docs are well versed in treating a variety of conditions, including ones whose symptoms overlap those of fibromyalgia, such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, and interstitial cystitis. They can start the elimination process to figure out exactly what you do — or don’t — have. If necessary, they also can refer you to a fibromyalgia specialist.
Don’t Be Afraid to Reassess
Not every doctor will fit the bill, however. If you’re reasonably sure your symptoms fall in line with fibromyalgia and you’re not getting the support you need from your primary care physician, it’s time to find a doctor who better understands the condition. The National Fibromyalgia Association can help you locate a fibromyalgia-literate primary care doctor in your area. Check out its provider directory for additional information and resources. The American College of Rheumatology also may be helpful in finding a knowledgeable fibromyalgia specialist.
Also, be sure to consider the following when selecting a doctor:
- Is he or she board certified?
- Is the doctor involved in any teaching, writing, or research? (If so, he or she may be more up to date on the latest research.)
- Does he or she accept your insurance?
- And most important, do you feel at ease with this physician?
Be Ready to See a Specialist
“If your doctor isn’t taking your complaints seriously and trying to help you, then you may need to see a different doctor or get a referral to a specialist [like a rheumatologist] to make the diagnosis,” says Clauw. All doctors are different, however, so it’s important to find someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing your feelings and concerns about your condition. You will need to be candid about your life, your fibromyalgia symptoms, and any treatment regimens, including vitamins, minerals, and supplements, you’re currently on.
The ‘Positive’ Side of Misdiagnosis
Symptoms like widespread muscle tenderness and pain, disturbed sleep, and muscle and joint stiffness can signify several conditions that can be difficult to diagnose. But even an incorrect diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome or interstitial cystitis may lead to relief of symptoms of fibromyalgia. “These conditions all respond to the same types of treatments,” says Clauw, “so there is no harm in being ‘misdiagnosed’ with them.”
The trouble comes if you’re misdiagnosed with a condition like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, which have different treatment plans. Because there are no tests or X-rays to prove you have fibromyalgia, you may need to see a rheumatologist to get the right diagnosis.
Don’t Lose Hope
Scientists are hard at work developing diagnostic tests for fibromyalgia and, according to Clauw, soon there may be specific tests that will help physicians determine which treatments will work best for a particular patient. In the meantime, your doctor can prescribe a multifaceted treatment program for you, includingmedication, exercise, stress reduction, and sleep strategies. “The pain and fibromyalgia fields are evolving very rapidly, and each month we know something new that helps us take better care of fibromyalgia patients,” says Clauw. “It is important to know that there is hope.”