Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome or FMS, is a condition that is often misdiagnosed due to a lack of understanding and limited awareness - some people even question whether it exists at all. However, the condition can seriously affect a person’s day-to-day living and if not dealt with properly, both medically and legally, it can leave a person without the necessary support to provide a better quality of life for themselves. This blog explores some of the misconceptions surrounding this condition and how it is best diagnosed, treated and managed.
The NHS estimates that nearly one in 20 people may be affected by fibromyalgia to some degree. The condition can affect both sexes, although it is much more common in women, with 80-90 per cent of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia being female. The majority of people are usually diagnosed when the condition develops between the ages of 30 and 50, although it can occur at any stage in life, including childhood.
What is fibromyalgia?
The condition is chronic and usually characterised by pain throughout the body and extreme fatigue. However, each sufferer experiences fibromyalgia differently; for instance, one person’s pain may be uncomfortable to live with but may not prevent them from working, while another's may be crippling, preventing them from undertaking the most basic tasks without support.
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Memory loss
- Concentration problems
- Joint stiffness, particularly in the morning
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
To read more about fibromyalgia, take a look at this infographic.
Misconceptions of fibromyalgia
Although the above symptoms are associated with fibromyalgia, many are often linked with other injuries and illnesses, which is why the risk of misdiagnosis is high. Whiplash is the ailment most commonly mistaken for fibromyalgia but other conditions, including arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis, can also be confused with it. A misdiagnosis can cause serious issues as it can add years onto a person’s recovery time because they may not be receiving suitable treatment for their condition. It is therefore vital that if you suspect you are suffering from fibromyalgia, you secure a proper medical diagnosis.
What’s more, if an individual who has been diagnosed with whiplash when they have fibromyalgia decides to make a personal injury claim, it is likely they will receive far less compensation than they are rightly entitled to because all the factors of their condition will have not been considered. One key fibromyalgia case at JMW saw the level of compensation a client was entitled to increase by a factor of ten, to £290,000, once an original diagnosis of whiplash had been proven to be incorrect.
Another reason fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed is because it is unclear what exactly causes the condition. There are a number of theories, however. Some suggest it is triggered by physical or emotional trauma such as a car accident, while others propose that chemical imbalances in the nervous system alter the way the body processes pain. Others speculate that the condition is hereditary.
Diagnosing, treating and managing fibromyalgia
Due to the complicated nature of fibromyalgia, a simple trip to your GP is unlikely to provide a clear diagnosis. Instead, you will need to be referred to a rheumatologist for the formal diagnosis. Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, often a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment is required involving the rheumatologist, a psychologist, a physiotherapist and a pain management expert. Together they will form a treatment plan to help you reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia and, ultimately, help to improve your quality of life. Treatment will vary per individual and how their condition affects them, but can include medication, exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and bracing.
Depending on the severity of your fibromyalgia and the treatment you require, you could be left facing expensive medical bills or care costs that you are unable to pay for. This may be especially true if you are unable to work. This is where making a claim for compensation helps, if your condition has arisen due to another person’s actions, such as if you’ve been the victim of a car accident. Finding a solicitor who has handled fibromyalgia claims before is important as they will be able to recognise problems that other solicitors won’t be able to, and can guide you towards the best treatment packages to aid your recovery.
If you’re concerned that you may have had an injury incorrectly diagnosed and believe you are showing symptoms for fibromyalgia, do not suffer in silence; get checked out with your doctor.