By Dr. Kevin White
Imagine having pain all over your body, being exhausted all the time, having constant headaches, and feeling like your mind is always in a fog. Together, it’s like the worst flu you’ve ever had, but it lasts forever. Now picture that no one believes you, not even your doctor. That is what fibromyalgia is for many.
Fibromyalgia, sometimes called FM, is a chronic, often-debilitating pain condition that affects 100 million people worldwide. And yet, in a recent survey, one in four doctors feels that all these patients are faking, and that FM doesn’t even exist. It has been called “an illusionary entity”, “a common non-entity”, and “the syndrome of feeling out of sorts”. Even doctors who believe their patients aren’t faking, mostly believe that they’re merely depressed.
Arguments against FM are many; but every one of them can now be shot down by published scientific evidence.
- Claims that it is a condition solely of depressed middle-aged women are countered by studies that show that 10% of cases begin in childhood; that one in twenty women will have it by age 35; that men get it too; and that two thirds of those who have FM are NOT depressed.
- Assertions that the condition is “the result of an over-generous Western compensation system” are contradicted by the fact that it is far more common in poor countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Poland than anywhere in the rich, industrialized West; and that it is twice as common in those who have no insurance as in those who do.
- And arguments that it is a “new disease” born out of current trends for laziness and lawsuits are contradicted by well-documented cases dating back hundreds of years.
But the most convincing evidence supporting FM as a legitimate PHYSICAL disorder is that the pain can now be seen with advanced brain imaging techniques, like SPECT scans and functional MRI. Unlike CAT scans and traditional MRI that show what the brain looks like, these newer scans show how active different parts of the brain are… and the midbrain lights up in patients in pain. They also light up in FM, not only in response to a painful stimulus, but to other stimuli like hot and cold, light touch, and even certain sounds, indicating an overall hypersensitivity of the brain to things that cause no problem to the rest of us – like a handshake, a hug, or a cool breeze.
Other abnormalities can now be seen too, like alterations in blood flow to various parts of the brain, which might explain the mental cloudiness, sometimes called the ‘fibro fog’, that so many feel. There also are proven imbalances in a variety of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, and in several different hormones. All of these changes say the same thing: that fibromyalgia is a real PHYSICAL illness.
Fibromyalgia is, in fact, a disease of the brain and nerves. Or, more specifically, it is a disease of that part of the brain, called the midbrain, that is responsible for the perception of various body sensations like pain and temperature, and the regulation of sleep. This pain and sleep switch of the body fails to work properly in fibromyalgia and in other chronic pain states. Pain won’t turn off; the bump on the knee that should only hurt for a second or two still hurts several months later, often growing worse over time. And the deep, restful sleep every body needs won’t turn on, no matter how long one spends in bed or on the couch.
The good news is that increased understanding about the underlying mechanisms of pain is leading to more effective ways to control it. The bad news is that too many doctors, lawyers, judges, insurers, employers, and others still don’t believe that the pain even exists. Until this changes, millions will continue to suffer without receiving the help and support they need.
- May 11th is international Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, a day when those who have fibromyalgia and those who support them are called to gather to increase public and professional awareness about the existence and impact of this sadly-misunderstood disease. Contact the American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association at http://www.afsafund.org/ to find out more.
Dr. Kevin White is a world expert in fibromyalgia and award-winning author. His just-released book – BREAKING THRU THE FIBRO FOG: SCIENTIFIC PROOF FIBROMYALGIA IS REAL – has just won a Reader’s Favorite book award. Visit his website at http://thefibrofog.com/. His book is available at http://www.amazon.com/ and all book stores.