Why do some still believe that fibromyalgia is a psychosomatic illness?
Published 18 Jun 2021 • By Candice Salomé
Fibromyalgia affects around 2% of the UK population. In more than 80% of cases, fibromyalgia affects women aged between 30 and 50 years old. It is a condition that combines persistent muscle and joint pain, sleep problems, chronic fatigue, anxiety issues and depressive symptoms. Unfortunately, the idea that fibromyalgia is psychosomatic in nature is still commonplace.
So, what is fibromyalgia really? Why do people still think that fibromyalgia is a psychosomatic condition?
We explain it all in our article!
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterised by chronic, widespread and persistent pain which can be made worse through exertion, humidity or the cold. These symptoms are compounded by a widespread burning sensation and profound fatigue. Many people with fibromyalgia also suffer from digestive issues, trouble sleeping, cognitive impairment or even emotional disturbances.
People living with this condition often report aching pain all over the body over months at a time. Certain stimuli, usually painless, can provoke pain and pain which is normally bearable can feel more intense.
There are two types of fibromyalgia: primary fibromyalgia (when the patient affected only by fibromyalgia) and secondary fibromyalgia (when the patient is affected by several conditions).
What causes of fibromyalgia?
The causes of fibromyalgia are not yet fully understood. Several hypotheses have been put forward but have not yet been validated.
This condition could be a symptom of a dysfunction in the areas of the brain responsible for the perception and analysis of pain.
Patients affected by fibromyalgia are sensitive to stimuli that are usually painless. This is called allodynia. Fibromyalgia patients also feel pain more quickly and intensely. This is called hyperalgesia.
Some scientists think that fibromyalgia is thought to have its root cause in a failure to adapt to stress.
Other researchers suggest that sleep problems, which are widely observed in fibromyalgia, are present well before the onset of painful symptoms and could therefore be the cause. In fact, it is recognised that a lack of sleep leads to depressive disorders and an increased sensitivity to pain.
Finally, some scientists indicate that fibromyalgia may appear following psychological trauma such as an accident, a break-up, a death, or following childbirth, overwork or a severe infection.
Several factors such as stress, anxiety or the loss of muscle mass due to inactivity caused by pain could fuel an already existing case of fibromyalgia.
Is fibromyalgia a psychosomatic illness?
In 1992, fibromyalgia appeared in the WHO's international classification of diseases.
Despite the fact that fibromyalgia affects between around 2-3 million people in the UK, it remains a poorly understood condition that is often looked down upon, including by the medical profession.
According to Dr. Jean-François Marc, a rheumatologist, the causes of fibromyalgia have not yet been discovered and the diagnosis is therefore still difficult to make.
In fact, pain and fatigue are symptoms common to all patients but other symptoms differ from one individual to another. This makes the diagnosis even more complex, as each case is unique.
Yet, since 2010, new criteria have enabled doctors to make a more accurate diagnosis. The first step is to eliminate all other diseases whose symptoms are also widespread pain.
However, according to a Canadian study, there are still 60% of diagnostic errors.
Patients are often not taken seriously by the medical community. Fibromyalgia has long had the reputation of being purely psychosomatic.
However, according to Dr. Charley Cohen, rheumatologist and author of "La fibromyalgie, un état douloureux enfin reconnu et pris au sérieux" ("Fibromyalgia, a painful condition that is finally recognised and taken seriously"), fibromyalgia is not comparable to any identified psychiatric illness.
In 30% of cases, fibromyalgia patients are also treated for depression. Depression remains a symptom of fibromyalgia and not the other way round. As a result of suffering from pain and not being taken into consideration, patients end up enduring the condition instead of fighting against it, which often leads to a state of depression.
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