Fibromyalgia misconceptions: Interview with a Mayo Clinic expert

Get the facts about these common fibromyalgia myths. Learning all you can about fibromyalgia is the first step toward gaining control of your symptoms.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Fibromyalgia is a widely misunderstood condition that causes widespread pain and fatigue. If you've been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and are trying to learn all you can about the condition, you may come across some myths and misconceptions about fibromyalgia.

In this interview, Connie A. Luedtke, R.N., the nursing supervisor of the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, discusses some common misconceptions about fibromyalgia.

What is the most common misconception about fibromyalgia?

The top misconception is that people think fibromyalgia isn't a real medical problem or that it is "all in your head." There's a lot that's unknown about fibromyalgia, but researchers have learned more about it in just the past few years.

In people who have fibromyalgia, the brain and spinal cord process pain signals differently. As a result, they react more strongly to touch and pressure, with a heightened sensitivity to pain. It is a real physiological and neurochemical problem.

Why does this misconception persist?

In our society, people tend to think that there is a cure or a fix for every medical problem. You go to the doctor, expecting he or she will fix whatever's wrong with you with medication or surgery.

It's frustrating to people with fibromyalgia because the traditional treatment approach isn't effective. And it's also frustrating to health care providers because they want to help people. But there's no easy fix. It takes lifestyle changes and small steps toward achieving wellness. It's a process.

How have misconceptions about fibromyalgia changed over the years?

More people understand that fibromyalgia is a real problem, often because they know someone who has it — perhaps a sister or daughter or mother. And more men are being diagnosed with fibromyalgia now that the diagnostic criteria are no longer focused so heavily on the number of tender points you might have.

Health care providers are seeing that people who have fibromyalgia can manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes to improve their overall functioning and quality of life. So there's hope for the future.

July 11, 2015 See more In-depth