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Fibromyalgia Myth Busting

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For many years Fibromyalgia has been considered something of a mystery, confounding the doctors who are trying to treat it and the patients who have to live with it. Only recently has new technology begun to unravel the truths about this mysterious disorder. As a result of the previous lack of scientific evidence, several myths about Fibromyalgia have developed that, unfortunately, are still being repeated today. It’s time to dispel the myths and clarify the facts.

Myth 1: Fibromyalgia is a form of arthritis.
Fact: Fibromyalgia is a neurologic disease.

Although it was once thought that Fibromyalgia might be a form of arthritis, research over the past 10+ years has proven that to be false. Arthritis is defined as an inflammation of the joints, but there is no inflammation with FM, nor is there any damage to the joints. A Fibromyalgia patient may have a type of arthritis (like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis) in addition to FM, but it is a completely separate disorder. On the FM research front, new brain-imaging techniques and scientific studies are revealing that Fibromyalgia is better defined as a central nervous system disorder that results in abnormal pain processing.

Myth 2: Fibromyalgia affects the muscles, joints and connective tissue.
Fact: There is no damage to the muscles, joints or connective tissue of people with Fibromyalgia.

For many years Fibromyalgia was described as a musculoskeletal disorder because much of the pain people experience with FM feels like it is coming from the muscles, joints and connective tissues. However, years of testing failed to reveal any actual damage to the musculoskeletal system. What research has discovered is that a malfunction in the central nervous system of FM patients causes disordered sensory processing which leads to pain amplification. In other words, a stimulus that would not even be noticed by most people can be extremely painful to someone with Fibromyalgia.

Myth 3: Fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disease.
Fact: Fibromyalgia is NOT an autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune disease is the result of a body’s overactive immune response. In a sense, the body’s immune system begins to attack its own cells and tissues. There is no evidence that Fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disease. In fact, years of research have not turned up any virus, bacteria or immune disorder.

It’s not unusual, however, for someone with FM to also have one or more autoimmune diseases, such as: celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, or some types of thyroid disease. Other illnesses that are suspected to have an autoimmune link and may occur with FM include: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, and Lyme disease.

Myth 4: Fibromyalgia is a middle-aged woman’s disease.
Fact: Fibromyalgia affects men, women and children.

To date, a larger percentage of adult women have been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia than men or children. However, it does affect all ages and both sexes. In fact, it may turn out that more men and children have FM than previously thought. Doctors are finding that men may have fewer than the traditional 11 tender points, yet still meet all the other criteria for FM. Thus, there may be considerably more men with FM than previously thought. And what was once thought to be “growing pains” in children may actually turn out to be a form of Fibromyalgia. But because most pediatricians are not very familiar with FM, they are unlikely to diagnosis it. Although FM will likely continue to be diagnosed more often in women, we may eventually discover it affects significantly more men and children than once thought.

Myth 5: Fibromyalgia is a psychological problem.
Fact: Fibromyalgia is a physical disorder with real, measurable biological abnormalities.

This myth probably causes the most frustration to Fibromyalgia patients. After years of being told “It’s all in your head,” patients finally have proof that Fibromyalgia is a very real, physical illness. Research studies have revealed a number of biological abnormalities, including:

  • Decreased blood flow to specific areas of the brain, particularly the thalamus region, which may help explain the pain sensitivity and cognitive functioning problems experienced by Fibromyalgia patients.
  • High levels of “substance P,” a central nervous system neurotransmitter involved in pain processing.
  • Low levels of nerve growth factor.
  • Low levels of somatomedin C, a hormone that promotes bone and muscle growth.
  • Low levels of several neurochemicals: serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and cortisol.
  • Low levels of phosphocreatine and adenosine, muscle-cell chemicals.

Despite the scientific evidence, some medical professionals continue to dismiss Fibromyalgia as a psychological problem, insisting that the symptoms are caused by depression. The fact is that the percentage of FM patients who suffer with depression is no higher than for any other chronic illness. Unfortunately, since it takes an average of 17 years for new research to become part of mainstream medicine, we’re probably going to be fighting this myth for several more years.

Karen Lee Richards is the Expert Patient, specializing in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, for HealthCentral’s ChronicPainConnection ( She is a co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association and was its vice-president for eight years. From 2002 thrugh 2005 she was Executive Editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE, the first magazine devoted to Fibromyalgia and other invisible illnesses.

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15 thoughts on “Fibromyalgia Myth Busting”

  1. meisterang says:

    Thank you for the admirable consise summary of current findings. I’m going to print this out and take it to my doctor.

  2. nc_artist says:

    I agree this is wonderfully consise and knowledgeable. You rarely find this information in a form that is so understandable.
    thank you!

  3. lilaclover30 says:

    A wonderful article with truth in it, thank goodness.

    1. MissM says:

      This is exactly what so many of us have been needing for a very long time!

    2. JONSsis says:

      This article presents a very clear picture of what fibro is exactly and how it differs from CFS. I printed it out to give to my Dr. when I go for my annual checkup soon.
      I hope there is a follow-up talking about some of the ways we can calm down Substance P and help our poor tired neurotransmitters work a bit better.
      Thanks for all the good work you folks do for us all!

      1. leubie says:

        thank-you so much for this article——-i only wish my printer worked so i could make a copy and take it w/ me when i go to my monthly doctors (neuro.) this month. thanks once more pro health for your wealth of information. laura

  4. kateinmo says:

    Execellent article.

    However, before I pass this information onto other people, I want source documentation rather than generalized statements such as:
    “…research over the past 10+ years has proven that to be false.”;
    “What research has discovered is that a malfunction in the central nervous system…”;
    “…years of research have not turned up any virus, bacteria or immune disorder.”
    “Research studies have revealed a number of biological abnormalities…”

    What institution(s) did the research?
    What are the credentials of the people who ran the study(ies)?
    When was the research done?
    How many people participated in the study(ies)?


    1. beckysanders says:


      I have spent years looking for answers and getting worse! Everyone for years and years have been doing research, no REAL answers, so many different theories, nobody seem to agree, I’ve looked and looked, I feel like it’s been a waste of time, because nobody HAS ANSWERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And thee are so many different protacols, people are selling, books, dr. people claiming they have cures and remedies, THE ANSWER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      It seems to me that NOBODY knows what it’s all about!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So frustration!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How do you know what’s what if they don’t even know!!!!!!!!!! And the different people selling their remedies, etc., how do they know if nobody knows and if they worked, why doesn’t EVERYONE USE THEM if they work?

      I’m on SSI-$8000. a year! to live on, and Medicaid, no Dr. I’ve been to know ANYTHING about it either!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I’m tired of it all!!!!!!!!!!! And somthing really insane about medicad, where the $ goes, for instance, an agency that does Home Health In home care gets $400 a week, and I’m only getting 15 hours a week help from them, and another agency who , I have-a PSR, like a social worker type worker, this agency also gets about $400. a week and the lady comes over maybe 2 hours a week and a couple phone calls a week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why don’t they give the sick people have the $, so they can get what they need!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s nut to me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      And who gives all these Grants to researchers, who don’t seem to be getting anywhere-I saw same things, as new reseach, going on back in the 80’s!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I’d like a Grant, I could find new ideas!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And use the $ to live on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I can’t remember where I saw it, but thought it was funny. Not FMS/CFS or any thing, IT’S MUPS :multible unexplained physical symptoms- about sums it up:) MUPS

      I’m tired of this. Lost everything, even significant other of 13 years left me, so tired of it!!!!!!!!!!!

      I’m not going to look things up anymore-like a waste of time, wigh I’d done alot of IMPORTANT things, instead of staying on comuter lookiing, waiting, hoping so long!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Befor I got sicker and more stressed and confused by it all……………

      Homebound, sicker more pain, no good drs. ALONE, and broke-yes I’m angry, I want to live and give and love, and not be left behind-I had a good life, now not useful, whew. Enough is ENOUGH! Just going incircles.

      God Bless, I’m in a bad mood, just want to live……….

      Becky Sorry

    2. jraffile says:

      I know sometime ago, I had my newsletters canceled due to wrong information that was given out by ProHealth. Before you take this info to heart, do your own research. I have and also much needed info is lacking in this article. I’ll just have to try to cancel again.

    3. shadowsmom42 says:

      I believe you might be seeing doctors that have some of the old beliefs still of what Fibromyalgia is and is not. This article is very, very accurate. Without going into detail of who I am or what my background is, I’ve studied and have researched Fibromyalgia for approximately 15 years. Yes, there is still a lot of wrong information out there about what Fibromyalgia is and is not, but I find that ProHealth has very accurately described the myths and truths about it. Over the years, we’re finding out more and more that Fibromyalgia is, in fact, a central nervous system disorder.

    4. Celia2000 says:

      If you read the book “What Your Doctor Didn’t Tell You About Fibromyalgia” by Dr. St. Amand, you will find that many, many things are explained, including eye problems, interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, tinnitus, etc, etc. I was blown away when I read this book, because up to that point in time, I had thought I was just a very unlucky person who had a lot of health issues. After reading the book, I realized that EVERYTHING was from the Fibromyalgia. I highly recommend this book as well as following the guaifenisen protocol as it has given me my life back.

    5. 9182583364 says:

      If there is no swelling, then what causes the wide bands on my thighs and arms that swell up and are hard & sore to the touch? It seems to me that there are many different symptoms in different people, as some have a multitude and some just a few. In my research this is very common. So how do you come up with “Myth Busting”?

    6. senseless says:

      Interesting that years of research have not found any bacteria or virus to cause FM….but SOMETHING causes all these provable differences in our bodies. My brother has been diagnosed as having Lyme disease, and funny, he grew up and played constantly in the same wooded area I did, got bitten by dozens of ticks, as I did, and has the exact same symptoms as I do! However, I have been diagnosed as having Fibromyalgia. There is a new test called the Bowen test that is more reliable for finding spirochetes,which cause Lyme disease, but many doctors seem to be unaware of it, or fail to see the similarities between Lyme and FMS. I think when a disease is not perceived as life-threatening, the research dollars and motivation to find a cure are just not there.

  5. barrytee says:

    I agree completely. Showing this article to any doctors without showing where and how the info was obtained would be ignored instantly.

  6. philr says:

    You say that there is no swelling with fibro. I know of no other reason that my hands swell so bad that you can not move the finger joints and my fingers are all swollen. This happens in the night mostly around 3:00am for some reason. When I get up it is gone although my hands are always sore. When my feet swell I am told it is gout. I know of others that have swelling also. Any info would be helpful. Also on another topic I am looking for any connection of Fibro to eye problems. Thank you for the info you give to the lousy fibro thing


    Phil Terry

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