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Fibromyalgia: it's not all in your head! Dr. Karen Newell, M.D. verifies the symptoms of this mysterious syndrome.


Although many traditional Medical Doctors do not believe that FMS (fibromyalgia syndrome) exists, those who suffer from it know that it does. FMS is often misdiagnosed as depression, neurosis, muscle spasms, and pain syndrome. Treated as such, this misdiagnosis and mistreatment leads to prolonged suffering for many patients.

FMS is a wide spread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder for which the cause is still unknown. Fibromyalgia means "pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons". These are the fibrous tissues of the body.

FMS used to be called fibrositis, implying there was inflammation in the muscles, but research later proved that this inflammation did not exist. Most patients with FMS say that they ache all over. Their muscles feel like they have been pulled or overworked. Sometimes the muscles twitch and other times they burn. More women than men are afflicted by FMS however, age is not a factor.

To help your family and friends relate to your condition, have them think back to the last time they had a bad flu. Every muscle in their body shouted out in pain. In addition they felt devoid of energy as though someone had unplugged their power supply. While the severity of the symptoms fluctuate from person to person, FMS may resemble a post-viral state and this is why several experts in the field of FMS and CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) believe that these two syndromes are one in the same.

Symptoms of FMS and Associate Syndromes

Pain. The pain of FMS has no boundaries. People describe the pain as a deep muscular aching, burning, throbbing shooting and stabbing. Quite often, the pain and stiffness are worse in the morning and sufferers may hurt more in muscle groups that are used repetitively.

Fatigue. This symptom can be mild in some patients and incapacitating in others. The fatigue has been described as "brain fatigue" in which patients feel totally drained of energy. Many patients depict this situation by saying that they feel as though their arms and legs are tied to concrete blocks. The patients also report difficulty in concentrating.

Sleep Disorder. Most FMS patients have an associated sleep disorder known as the "alpha-EEG anomaly." This condition was uncovered in a sleep lab with the aid of a machine that recorded the brain waves of patients during sleep. Researchers found that FMS patients could fall asleep without much trouble, but their deep level sleep (or stage 4 sleep) was constantly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity. Patients appeared to spend the night with one foot in sleep and the other one out of it.

In most cases, a physician doesn't have to order expensive sleep lab tests to determine if you have disturbed sleep. If you wake up feeling as though you have been run over by a Mack truck--what doctors refer to as unrefreshed sleep--it is reasonable for your doctor to assume that you have a sleep disorder.

It should be noted that most patients diagnosed with CFS have the same alpha-EEG sleep pattern and some FMS diagnosed patients have been found to have other sleep disorders. These other disorders include myoclonus or PLMS (night time jerking of the arms and legs), restless leg syndrome, and bruxism (teeth grinding). In short, FMS cannot be diagnosed by a sleep disorder alone.

It should be noted that the sleep pattern for a clinically depressed patient is distinctly different from that found in an FMS or a CFS patient. This fact can help physicians that treat FMS as seriously as it should be treated to distinguish FMS from depression.

Other Common Symptoms. Painful menstrual periods (dysmenorrhea), chest pain, morning stiffness, cognitive or memory impairment, numbness and tingling sensations, muscle twitching, irritable bladder, the feeling of swollen extremities, skin sensitivity, dry eyes and mouth, frequent changes in eye prescription, dizziness and impaired coordination can occur.

With this long list of possible symptoms it is easy to understand why physicians that are not experienced with treating FMS patients often misdiagnose FMS.

Aggravating factors. Changes in the weather, cold or drafty environments, hormonal fluctuations (premenstrual and menopausal states), stress, depression, anxiety, and over-exertion can all contribute to symptom flare-ups.


Traditional medicine or western medicine: The approach of traditional medicine in treating FMS is usually heavily reliant on prescription drugs, including pain medications and anti-depressants. The approach of many traditional doctors is based on the belief that FMS does not exist, therefore they tend to treat individual symptoms of FMS rather than treating it as a syndrome, or group of symptoms.

Natural, Holistic, or Complementary Medicine:

These physicians tend to be less reliant on drugs and more reliant on alternative therapies. These physicians tend to take a more holistic approach that includes taking into account a broad range of factors in diagnosing the condition and designing an individualized treatment for each patient.

Regardless of which symptoms you have, or which treatment path you choose to follow, you should not let anyone tell you that FMS is "all in your head"

Dr. Karen Newell, M.D. verifies the symptoms of this mysterious syndrome.

Dr. Karen Newell, M.D. practices complementary medicine at Georgia Health and Medicine. Contact her at 770-533-4494.
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Author:Newell, Karen
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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