By: Dr. Bruce Gillis, MD, MPH
On May 12, we will celebrate more than 85 million moms across this country who are the consummate multi-taskers. From running households to earning paychecks to caring for children and other loved ones, moms accomplish extraordinary things in the face of life's daily challenges.
This Mother's Day coincides with the National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day and, for an estimated 7 million moms in America, 1 out of every 12 women, their lives are also filled with unrelenting pain, chronic fatigue, insomnia, problems with thinking and memory (i.e., brain fog), depression, gastrointestinal afflictions and other symptoms which are commonly associated with fibromyalgia (FM).
Simply put, fibromyalgia is a medical condition that is a terrible and common affliction that tends to be misunderstood and misdiagnosed.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia affects more than 12.3 million people in the United States, a number comparable to those afflicted by cancer (12.5 million). However, a recent Mayo Clinic study instead reports that millions more actually suffer with fibromyalgia than originally were thought. Specifically, fibromyalgia affects up to 1 out of every 12 women and 1 out of every 20 men in the United States. Still, many people continue to mistakenly believe that FM only affects hysterical, neurotic and hypochondriacal women. While women are more active in seeking a diagnosis regarding their unrelenting symptoms, FM does not discriminate. It affects women, men and children.
For years, patients with FM have seen their doctors for complaints of chronic pain, diffuse tenderness, severe fatigue and other unbearable symptoms. They often left their doctor's offices without having received any definitive answers. They have been stigmatized and labelled as depressed, crazy, hysterical, neurotic and/or hypochondriacal. They were often told that the symptoms they were experiencing were "in their heads." Obtaining a diagnosis of FM has often been emotionally draining and extremely costly for patients. On average, patients who experience FM symptoms spend 3-5 years seeking a diagnosis and, on an annual basis, between $4,800-$9,300 in direct medical costs.
Now, however, there is new hope for FM patients since, for the first time, there is a test which objectively, quickly and accurately diagnoses this elusive condition. This simple blood test, known as the FM/a test, is extremely precise with a greater than
93% test sensitivity. It can diagnose FM in less than a week and at a fraction of the cost versus what the typical FM patient spends seeking a diagnosis.
Based on peer-reviewed research conducted at the University of Illinois College of
Medicine at Chicago, I led a research team that "pulled back the curtain" and identified specific immune system biomarkers in fibromyalgia. Our statistically significant study compared those who had been subjectively diagnosed with FM to healthy patients, and we discovered that patients with FM have an immune system dysregulation abnormality that makes them extremely and exceptionally vulnerable to the rigors of life, thereby leading to chronic pain, overwhelming fatigue, insomnia and other severe symptoms. For more information about our research findings, the FM/a test and other resources for people living with FM, please go to www.thefmtest.com.
Public awareness has done wonders for our understanding of diseases such as AIDS, autism, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis and many more. As we simultaneously celebrate both Mother's Day and National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, we need to educate patients, medical professionals, health insurers and the general public about fibromyalgia - a real disease that for too long has been dismissed and simply not been given the attention and recognition it deserves and justifies. We can start this Mother's Day by showing the compassion, support and respect the 7 million moms in the United States afflicted with FM deserve.