Fibromyalgia Myth vs. Fact

Busting the Myths

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It's hard enough to understand a complex illness, but with fibromyalgia, you often have to separate myth from fact to gain an accurate understanding. And even then, you've got to deal with people who believe the myths.

Some of the most common myths are listed below so you can find out what makes them wrong and learn the facts.

Inability to Deal With Pain

Some people, and even some doctors, have argued that fibromyalgia is just an inability to deal with the normal aches and pains of life.

What these people don't realize is that the pain of fibromyalgia is amplified well beyond "normal." What would cause mild discomfort in someone else may cause searing pain in us. Brain scans show that stimuli such as cold and pressure light up the pain centers of the fibromyalgia brain like crazy, meaning that the person is experiencing very real, very intense pain from something that wouldn't hurt healthy people.

Fibromyalgia Is Made Up, Hypochondria, or a Psychiatric Illness

It's hard for some people to believe in an illness with no blood-test results to prove it and pain without damage to tissues or other structures. Throw in symptoms relating to mood and treat it with antidepressants, and it gives people the impression that we're crazy or fibromyalgia is simply a form of depression.

However, studies show multiple unique physiological abnormalities in people with this condition. They're in the cells, the nervous system, and the hormones.

Antidepressants are a common fibromyalgia treatment because they alter the function of certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain), The same neurotransmitters may be involved in depression, but they're also involved in multiple non-psychological functions, including sleep, memory, cognitive ability and some aspects of muscle function.

Fibromyalgia is considered a neurological condition, meaning it's in the same category as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. It's also worth noting that, before their physical causes were fully understood, both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's were surrounded by myths similar to those now misapplied to fibromyalgia.

People With Fibromyalgia Need More Exercise

It's common to hear people tell someone with fibromyalgia, "You just need to get out there and be more active. That'll help you feel better."

People tend to mistake inactivity for the cause of symptoms when it's actually the result of symptoms. Fibromyalgia involves a reduced exercise tolerance that means overexertion can lead to severe symptoms.

At the same time, research does show that exercise makes fibromyalgia better. It seems like a contradiction.

The key isn't in "more" exercise, it's in appropriate exercise. Each person with this illness needs to gauge his/her own ability to exercise, work within those parameters, and gradually expand them.

For someone with minor symptoms who hasn't been sick for very long, appropriate exercise could mean an hour of bike riding. For a severe, long-term case, it might be walking to the mailbox and back, or a few gentle yoga stretches. (Other options include water exercise, tai chi, and pilates.)

If exercise is done correctly, meaning it doesn't exacerbate symptoms, it's possible to very slowly increase exercise tolerance and do more. However, it's a gradual and individual process.

"Consistent" exercise is far more beneficial than "more."

Fibromyalgia Is an Old Woman's Disease

It's true that a large portion of those diagnosed with are post-menopausal women, and some research suggests that changing hormones may play a role in some cases. However, fibromyalgia may develop in men and women, children and adults.

Some patient advocates wonder whether doctors miss fibromyalgia in men and children because they aren't looking for it, while it's something that comes to mind more readily when they're dealing with older women. A man may simply be left undiagnosed, and a child may be told it's "just growing pains."

This myth is harmful when it comes to public perception as well. Many men with fibromyalgia say they're regarded as weak for having an "old woman's disease," which makes them less prone to tell people about it. Currently, men make up about 10% of diagnosed fibromyalgia cases.

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