5 myths about fibromyalgia

Posted at 5:31 PM, May 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-12 17:31:14-04

Fibromyalgia is a condition Teresa Rimel of Pasadena knows all too well.

Now 45, Rimel, the founder and facilitator of the Central Maryland Fibromyalgia Support Group, was first diagnosed when she was 16. Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by musculoskeletal pain, often combined with fatigue and a whole host of other symptoms. 

There are many different ways patients experience fibromyalgia, Rimel said, and not everyone, including some doctors, understand it. 

May 12 is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. Rimel shared some of the myths and misconceptions about the condition with ABC2.

Myth: It's all in your head. 

Fact: Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder, Rimel said. But because it can be an invisible illness -- much like lupus or Lyme disease -- many people wrongly assume it's psychosomatic.

"People think it's this new junk diagnosis," she said. 

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoekeletal and Skin Diseases said the cause of the disorder is unknown, but scientists have linked it to things like personal trauma, repetitive injuries and other illnesses.

Scientists are still looking into a genetic component, according to the institute. 

In Rimel's family, she's one of nine people with the disorder.

Myth: The condition is the same for everyone who has it. 

Fact: There are about 100 symptoms that are associated with fibromyalgia, and patients can have any combination of them, Rimel said. Some common symptoms include fatigue, tender points throughout the body, muscle weakness, sleep problems and swollen lymph nodes. 

Myth: It's rare.

Fact: The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoekeletal and Skin Diseases estimates 5 million people 18 and older in the U.S. have fibromyalgia. Rimel said some studies put that figure closer to 8 million.

Myth: Only women suffer from fibromyalgia

Fact: While many more women suffer from the disorder than men, there are men who have it. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musckuloskeletal and Skin Diseases estimates between 80 and 90 percent of people diagnosed are adult women. Children can also be diagnosed with it.

Myth: Nothing can be done to treat it. 

Fact: Because there are so many different symptoms, there is no one size fits all way to treat fibromyalgia, but it can be done, Rimel said. She prefers to manage her symptoms with diet, exercise, yoga and tai chi, and doesn't take any medications. But others may prefer medications, or supplements, or some combination of all of those things.

"You don't have to look at it as a life sentence," Rimel said.