Fibromyalgia (cont.)

What causes fibromyalgia?

The causes of fibromyalgia are not known. Researchers think a number of factors might be involved. Fibromyalgia can occur on its own, but has also been linked to:

  • Having a family history of fibromyalgia
  • Being exposed to stressful or traumatic events, such as
    • Car accidents
    • Injuries to the body caused by performing the same action over and over again (called "repetitive" injuries)
    • Infections or illnesses
    • Being sent to war

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

People with fibromyalgia often see many doctors before being diagnosed. One reason for this may be that pain and fatigue, the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, also are symptoms of many other conditions. Therefore, doctors often must rule out other possible causes of these symptoms before diagnosing fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia cannot be found by a lab test.

A doctor who knows about fibromyalgia, however, can make a diagnosis based upon two criteria:

  1. A history of widespread pain lasting more than 3 months. Pain must be present in both the right and left sides of the body as well as above and below the waist.
  2. Presence of tender points. The body has 18 sites that are possible tender points. For fibromyalgia diagnosis a person must have 11 or more tender points. For a point to be "tender," the patient must feel pain when pressure is put on the site. People who have fibromyalgia may feel pain at other sites, too, but those 18 sites on the body are used for diagnosis.

Your doctor may try to rule out other causes of your pain and fatigue. Testing for some of these things may make sense to you. For instance, you may find it reasonable that your doctor wants to rule out rheumatoid arthritis, since that disease also causes pain. Testing for other conditions -- such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, or sleep apnea -- may make less sense to you. But fibromyalgia can mimic or even overlap many other conditions. Talk with your doctor. He or she can help you understand what each test is for and how each test is part of making a final diagnosis.