Getting the best treatment for your fibromyalgia – Harvard Health Blog
Imagine that you are in pain and your doctor tells you it’s all in your head. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience for many of the six million Americans living with fibromyalgia, a chronic and painful condition.
People with fibromyalgia experience widespread pain, aches, and stiffness in muscles and joints throughout the body, as well as unusual fatigue. No one knows what causes this condition, and no apparent physical cause has been identified so far. The most likely culprit is a brain dysfunction that amplifies normal nerve responses, causing people with fibromyalgia to experience pain or other symptoms when nothing seems to trigger them.
For those looking for help, finding help can sometimes be a challenge. The best way to find an effective treatment strategy is to seek out a doctor who understands fibromyalgia, knows how to treat it, and can help you understand and deal with the condition. There are ways to improve your chances of finding the right match.
Understand your condition
The first step in this process is to arm yourself with the facts.
- Fibromyalgia is a real disorder. The American College of Rheumatology has created criteria that doctors can use to diagnose it (see this link for a patient-friendly version). It is recognized by national and international health agencies, including the World Health Organization.
- Fibromyalgia often coexists with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, but it’s not caused by mental illness.
- Fibromyalgia is not “in your head”, but it is linked to brain activity. Differences in how the brain processes pain can be seen on functional MRI scans of people with fibromyalgia.
- The FDA has approved three drugs specifically for the treatment of fibromyalgia: pregabalin (Lyrica), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and milnacipran (Savella). These drugs are effective against nerve pain and are also used for other conditions.
Find referrals to providers who understand fibromyalgia
To find the right health care provider, it can be helpful to reach out to those who already have experience in this area. Support groups are a natural starting point. The National Fibromyalgia Association website lists support groups in each state that can help you find those initial connections. The organization can also provide a list of “fibro friendly” doctors in your state.
You can also turn to your primary care physician to point you in the right direction. Many doctors will be able to recommend a specialist who can help you manage your condition.
Once you’ve chosen a potential supplier, make sure he or she is the right fit. Ask the office staff if the doctor sees fibromyalgia patients frequently and treats them regularly. Also ask what treatments the doctor usually prescribes. Find out what kind of services they provide; for example, do they offer telemedicine appointments? What services will they provide remotely and which will require an office visit? If the answers aren’t what you’re looking for, or if the office doesn’t seem receptive to your concerns, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere.
Connect your medical team
Once you’ve found the right supplier, make sure he or she is ready to connect with your other suppliers. Many people with fibromyalgia need more than one doctor to manage their symptoms. Consulting multiple specialists may increase the risk of medication errors or harmful interactions of medications prescribed by different doctors. Additionally, your doctors can duplicate lab tests or other services. This can increase the cost of your care unnecessarily.
Finding the right doctor for your needs may not always be easy, but it’s worth the extra effort to increase your chances of successfully managing your condition.
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