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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!

Why do some still believe that fibromyalgia is a psychosomatic illness?

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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1
avatar Candice Salomé

Author: Candice Salomé, Health Writer

Candice is a content creator at Carenity and specialises in writing health articles. She has a particular interest in the fields of women's health, well-being and sport. 

Candice holds a master's degree in... >> Learn more

4 comments


Kimberley68
on 24/06/2021

It's awful when people who have fibromyalgia and other conditions,  everything is blamed on fibromyalgia by the GP! Thank you for that article,  news and confirmation that fibromyalgia is an illness, is slowly being accepted x


pete55
on 24/06/2021

I recently saw my Pain Management Consultant for some Fibromyalgia upper back trigger point injections.   She told me that it is know known that Fibromyagia has its roots in neural inflammation but that no current anti-inflammatory drugs work for it.   She also said that there are some interesting new treatments in the pipeline but that unfortunately they are still 3 to 4 years away.    But that gives me hope that its root has been found and that we may be offered new treatments in a few years time that actually deal with the cause rather than cocktails of drugs at the moment that just deal with the symptoms.


Pippadog
on 24/06/2021

Fibromyalgia is a condition not truly understood, it mimics so may conditions that confuses doctors and patients alike. Anyone who says it’s psychological  have never suffered from it, I hope they never do because it can become unbearable. Treatments are not always helpful in fact they can cause more issues.


Robatkins
on 24/06/2021

I was told six years ago I had Fibromyalgia and many times now I have had other problems just put down to it. I've had so many people say to me you dont look ill. Which hurts on its own.  I dont get a lot of help now from my GP he just keeps tabs on my mental health which isn't good. Sleep has become a luxury now and with the other problems that come along with it I spend a lot of time crying. It would be lovely  if they could find something to help us who have got it but I guess it's a long way of yet. It's good that its getting out there for people to learn more about it tho. Who knows one day we might have a answer for it. 

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