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We Need to Convince the Medical Profession That Fibromyalgia Is Real

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In the 1991 film “The Doctor,” William Hurt is a physician who realizes how patients in the hospital are dehumanized by the staff only after he becomes a patient himself. It was based on the similar 1988 memoir “A Taste of My Own Medicine: When the Doctor Is the Patient” by Dr. Edward E. Rosenbaum.

A nurse might face the same epiphany after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia (FM). One “Ph.D. nurse” with FM confessed on (the no longer active) website that “The most humbling nursing experience of my life was being diagnosed with the very condition I had discounted and dismissed as a fake.” Too many have been taught – indoctrinated, even – that fibromyalgia doesn’t exist, that it isn’t real, that patients just have a mental disorder. Or worse, that they are just substance abusers looking for prescription drugs, maybe even medical marijuana.


The inconvenient truth of FM is that it is hard to diagnose, and there is little or no physical evidence besides the symptoms, notably the sometimes debilitating chronic pain, fatigue and inability to concentrate. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

Sometimes the only thing worse than not getting painkillers for your chronic pain is to get painkillers for your chronic pain. Addiction is real, too, even when the patient-nurse does have FM. And if the patient does have FM, the pain medication might have limited effect. Opioids such as Vicodin are only effective – if they are effective at all – in the short-term because tolerance builds up fast, requiring larger and larger doses, which can lead to addiction or even death. FM patients and their friends and family need to be watchful for the signs of Vicodin overdose.

Karma is the great humbler. The Ph.D. nurse with FM wondered if she was getting payback for how she treated FM patients herself. Whether you have or suspect you have FM, chronic fatigue, Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), show compassion and keep an open mind with patients who say they have these conditions. Otherwise you may become an object lesson in arrogance or hubris later.


– Education is a lifelong process. You have to keep up with innovations and new discoveries. Don’t let prejudices learned in nursing school color your professional life now. Learn about FM myths and how to counter them.

– What seems like nonsense at one time turns out to be sensible. In the mid-19th century, the germ theory – even the wisdom of washing your hands after performing an autopsy or before delivering a baby – was once thought of as a crackpot idea, even though it had been proposed for at least 2,000 years.

– Asking for relief from pain is normal – especially for a medical professional who is familiar with and knowledgeable about narcotics – and not necessarily one of the early warning signs of Vicodin overdose or even addiction.

– There are other possible treatments for FM – including non-painkiller prescription drugs, medical marijuana or its non-euphoric component cannabidiol (CBD oil)ginger and sometimes even alcohol – but none is a panacea. Some work for some people some of the time. FM patients don’t necessarily want drugs; they want to feel better.

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Thinkstock photo via Ingram Publishing.


Originally published: June 16, 2017
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