Ever since the American College of Rheumatology developed the first guidelines for diagnosing fibromyalgia syndrome in 1990, the disorder has faced skepticism from both the medical community and the general public. Fibromyalgia, which is characterized by widespread chronic pain, has historically been difficult to definitively diagnose, leading to misdiagnosis and treatment obstacles for patients who are suffering with often debilitating symptoms. Through our studies of the condition over the past several years, including conversations with numerous rheumatologists, we’ve come to realize that there are multiple reasons why the disorder can be so difficult to diagnose.

A diagnosis of exclusion

Until recently, there was no diagnostic test to confirm whether or not a patient has fibromyalgia. Because pain is subjective and difficult to measure, many doctors have relied on diagnosing the condition based on exclusion, meaning they test for and eliminate other diseases until fibromyalgia is one of the few remaining possibilities. This extensive testing can be time-consuming, costly and frustrating for patients, whose symptoms will often become more severe the longer they go without proper treatment.

Diseases with a similar presentation

Aside from historically having no black-and-white test for fibromyalgia patients, physicians face the challenge of distinguishing the disorder from other conditions – including early lupus and rheumatoid arthritis – that present similarly to fibromyalgia. In early lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, the damage has not yet taken its toll on the joints or tissues of the body. The pain, muscle stiffness, and exhaustion characteristic of fibromyalgia are difficult to distinguish from these inflammatory conditions until the physical damage progresses or further laboratory testing and clinical observation confirms presence or absence of either inflammatory condition. The disorder can also become a secondary diagnosis when a patient complains of symptoms such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, joint pain and skin rash alongside pain in the back, neck or shoulder blades, and these symptoms are not explained by a diagnosis of another condition.

The current diagnostic process

Many physicians today begin the diagnostic process by asking a patient about their recent medical history, including any MRIs or X-rays they’ve had done. Fibromyalgia symptoms can also overlap with those of viral illnesses, which typically take at least three months to rule out.

After eliminating any short-term conditions, physicians rely on a widespread pain index (WPI) test and consider a patient’s sleep patterns, stress level, history and major life changes to make a diagnosis. Cases where a patient scores seven or higher out of 19 on the WPI can indicate the presence of fibromyalgia.

While the American College of Rheumatology recently established new criteria for diagnosing the disorder, many physicians still also incorporate the previous criteria of assessing 18 tender points – located in a patient’s knees, elbows, chest, upper back and head – to aid them in their evaluation.

A quicker path to recovery

Receiving a final diagnosis of fibromyalgia syndrome often takes time, money and a lot of patience. Because proper treatment for the condition can’t begin until other possibilities have been eliminated, many patients struggle to maintain their normal routine as their quality of life quickly deteriorates, causing significant emotional stress for both the patient and their loved ones.

This is something we at IQuity hope to alleviate from the diagnostic process with IsolateFibromyalgia®. We’re aware of the strain this lengthy process can place on someone’s life, and we believe that the ability to give physicians a tool to help diagnose fibromyalgia – with 94 percent accuracy – could mean an earlier start to treatment and relief, saving both time and money for all involved.

If you or someone you know suspects they might have fibromyalgia, you can utilize the online list of doctors published by the National Fibromyalgia Association to aid you in finding a physician who treats the disorder.