American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Living a Full Life with Fibromyalgia

Physician examining female patientDo you suffer from chronic pain, fatigue and depression? If you do, you might have fibromyalgia, a complex and often misunderstood chronic pain condition that affects an estimated 10 million Americans. On the other hand, if you've never heard of this condition, you're not the only one. In fact, one in three Americans have never heard of fibromyalgia or don't consider it a disease. Jennifer N. Caudle, DO, an osteopathic family physician from Philadelphia, explains why the disease often goes untreated and how you can seek help if you think you might have fibromyalgia.

So, why hasn't this condition received much attention or proper diagnosis?

According to a survey conducted by the American Osteopathic Association, many patients delay diagnosis and treatment because they fear that they will be perceived as "faking" the disease or simply complaining. "As fibromyalgia gains more attention, now more than ever, patients can move beyond the stigma, relieve the symptoms of this condition with treatment, and lead full lives," says Dr. Caudle.

What are the symptoms?

"Fibromyalgia is a multifaceted condition that impacts each patient differently," says Dr. Caudle. "The disease affects patients physically, emotionally and socially, interfering with their basic daily activities, such as sleeping, exercising and working." Common symptoms include:

  • Widespread pain

  • Joint stiffness

  • Debilitating fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Cognitive symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating

On average, Americans living with fibromyalgia endure three years of symptoms and visit at least three different physicians before receiving an accurate diagnosis. Although fibromyalgia usually appears in patients in their 20s or 30s, the disease is found in all age groups and is most common among women.

How can I ensure a proper diagnosis?

Before beginning a dialogue with your physician, Dr. Caudle recommends recording your symptoms:

  • Describe what you're feeling.

  • Rate the severity of your symptoms.

  • Note how frequently your symptoms occur.

  • Record what you're doing when the symptoms begin.

She also recommends analyzing your lifestyle:

  • Keep track of the medications/therapies you regularly use.

  • Document your current exercise routine.

  • Note how your symptoms impact your daily life.

  • Talk to other people about your symptoms and concerns, including family members who can discuss your family health history.

  • Conduct research to learn more about fibromyalgia and the different treatment options available.

What treatments are available?

The most important step to living an active life with fibromyalgia is finding the right physician who can develop an individualized approach to managing your symptoms.

Using a whole-person approach to care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond the symptoms of fibromyalgia to assess the impact of environmental and lifestyle factors on your health. They are trained to listen and partner with their patients, encouraging the body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.

"The condition can be effectively managed by exploring a range of different treatment options, such as medications, diet, lifestyle changes and other therapies such as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a hands-on treatment used by DOs to care for musculoskeletal pain," explains Dr. Caudle.  "With the support of a physician, as well as friends and family, you can live an active life with fibromyalgia."


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