Fibromyalgia is a mysterious condition that causes symptoms of fatigue and pain spread over most of the body. Unfortunately, correctly diagnosing fibromyalgia can be difficult because the symptoms are similar to those of other conditions.
Over the decades, there has been an evolution in fibromyalgia diagnosis. The Mayo Clinic describes the old techniques and how they differ from the diagnostics that doctors run today.
The old method of using tender points
A tender point is a specific area of the body that, when a doctor applies firm pressure to it, produces increased pain. In the past, doctors identified 18 tender points for the purpose of diagnosing fibromyalgia. If patients experienced increased pain with pressure on at least 11 of the 18, doctors made a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
Using pressure points was an unreliable diagnostic for several reasons. For one thing, doctors were not sure of the amount of pressure to apply. For another, fibromyalgia pain comes and goes, and patients who were not symptomatic on the day of testing may have received a misdiagnosis despite having fibromyalgia.
The current standards in use today
Instead of using tender points to diagnose fibromyalgia, doctors now use widespread pain as a standard. Widespread pain affects both the upper and lower body, as well as the right and left sides, and persists for at least three months. A patient who reports pain that meets these criteria may receive a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
A subjective report of the patient’s symptoms may not be sufficient to diagnose fibromyalgia. Because there is not a test for fibromyalgia, doctors may perform tests to exclude other possible causes of the symptoms, such as mental health conditions, neurological disorders or rheumatic diseases.
Despite this evolution, misdiagnosis of fibromyalgia is still possible. This can result in delayed treatment or unnecessary treatment for a condition that the patient does not have.