Fibromyalgia is something that is often misunderstood and mischaracterized, for a host of different reasons. A lack of reliable information, a host of social stigmas, unfamiliarity with rheumatology in general—these things all contribute to the negative culture around fibromyalgia.
One of the most simple questions surrounding fibromyalgia is the one most needing a definite answer: Is fibromyalgia a disease or a condition?
What is a disease?
By opening up the dictionary, we find that a disease is:
A disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.
Pretty simple, right? Well, not exactly. By taking a look at the definition of “condition” listed below, one begins to see the problem that arises when addressing fibromyalgia.
What is a condition?
According to the McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine (2009):
A disease, illness or injury; any physiologic, mental or psychological condition or disorder(e.g., orthopedic; visual, speech or hearing impairments; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; cancer; coronary artery disease; diabetes; mental retardation; emotional or mental illness; specific learning disabilities; HIV disease; TB; drug addiction; alcoholism). A biological or psychological state which is within the range of normal human variation is not a medical condition.
One can see from the simple fact that the word “disease” is included in the definition of “condition” that we have a problem. The two are closely related and, to a layman, might even be indistinguishable from one another.
What is a syndrome?
A syndrome is defined as a group of symptoms that consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms. Examples include Odontoma dysphagia syndrome, Down’s Syndrome, and yes, fibromyalgia syndrome.
So which is it? Is fibromyalgia a disease, a condition or a syndrome?
First, let’s lay out what we know about fibromyalgia that could help us define it:
- Fibromyalgia could be hereditary. It appears to cluster in families, especially among mothers and daughters.
- Symptoms vary widely, but many (joint pains, sensitivity to light/sound, debilitating headaches, etc.) are extremely common among sufferers.
- Because of the subjective experiences had by those diagnosed with fibromyalgia, some medical professionals do believe that some symptoms could be the result of other conditions/diseases not yet diagnosed, while others believe they link directly back to fibromyalgia.
So what’s the verdict? As for now, fibromyalgia is most definitely a medical condition. It is a disorder that creates abnormal variations in one’s health. Does that mean it is not a disease? No, it doesn’t. It means that while we have enough information to consider it a condition, we don’t have enough information or medical/scientific consensus to consider it a disease. We do, however, have enough information to call it a syndrome.
Because fibromyalgia is a group of symptoms, including pain, fatigue, confusion, depression, and anxiety, it is obviously and definitely a syndrome.
For more information, please visit the American College of Rheumatology’s website here.