Is Fibromyalgia Misdiagnosed as ADHD in Young People?

Fibromyalgia is a complicated illness. The experts still aren’t sure exactly what causes it or how to cure it. But researchers discover new correlations every day and develop clues about the nature of the illness. The more recent interesting finding from researchers is a possible link with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnoses in young people, which leads to a later diagnosis of fibromyalgia in children instead. If you’re not sure how these can be related, read on for the details.

How was This Link Discovered?

A medical company called EpicGenetics developed the first FDA-approved blood test for fibromyalgia in 2012. The test, called the FM/a test, only requires a single drop of blood. The FM/a test evaluates white blood cell production and looks for abnormalities that indicate fibromyalgia.

The company found that 80 percent of people under the age of 19 who received a positive test result for fibromyalgia were previously diagnosed with ADHD. A later blood test revealed that the accurate diagnosis was instead fibromyalgia.

The Similarity Between ADHD and Fibromyalgia

Both ADHD and fibromyalgia are little-understood diseases. When young children experience issues like chronic pain, it may cause them to act out and misbehave. This misbehavior can be disruptive at home and at school.

The symptoms of ADHD and fibromyalgia in children can have some similarities. That can make the two difficult to diagnose without further testing. Some of the shared symptoms often present in both ADHD include fibromyalgia are the following:

  • Chronic pain
  • Difficulty with concentration and attention
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Problems with finding words

The brain chemicals involved in ADHD and fibromyalgia are also similar. Some of the brain chemicals in both ADHD and fibromyalgia are dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. Researchers believe that irregular dopamine regulation causes the same problems with cognitive functions in both fibromyalgia and ADHD.

Why Proper Diagnosis is So Important

It can be a very big deal when children get diagnosed with ADHD. An ADHD diagnosis affects the type of education a kid receives, which means that a false diagnosis could cause young people to get special education services when they aren’t needed. Being labeled with ADHD can shape not only how a school sees a child, but can also affect how the child sees themselves.

Medications used to treat ADHD can be damaging if taken by people who don’t need them, especially young people whose bodies are still developing. Most medications for ADHD, including Ritalin and Adderall, are stimulants. These drugs carry some health risks on their own, especially if there are undiagnosed heart problems. These drugs are also often abused by young people. Taking these medications should be a carefully considered decision for young people with ADHD. Use extra caution with these medications if fibromyalgia could be a possibility.

What are the Symptoms of Juvenile Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a difficult illness to understand. But even for those who are familiar with the symptoms of fibromyalgia in adults, they may not be able to recognize them in children or young people. That’s because the symptoms of fibromyalgia often look different in young people than in adults. Some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia in children and teens include the following:

  • Symptoms may begin after a physical trauma, surgery, or psychologically stressful event.
  • They may complain of nonspecific, widespread pain. The pain is usually on both sides of the body and below the waist. The symptom generally lasts for at least three months. Parents may mistake the pain for general “tummy aches” or even growing pains.
  • Children may have regular headaches. These often occur every day and don’t respond to standard treatment.
  • They may have sleep problems. Problems include difficulty falling asleep or not sleeping long enough.
  • They may also have leg pain, which can be a contributing factor in sleep problems.
  • Children may also experience sadness or worry, even to the level of depression and anxiety.

It’s important to take these concerns seriously when children and teens have any of the above symptoms. Seek medical and psychiatric evaluations when problems continue. Don’t dismiss the child’s complaints as being all in their head. Problems could be related to undiagnosed fibromyalgia.

Further Studies

EpicGenetics is using their test to identify fibromyalgia in children, adults, and the elderly.  Those who test positive for fibromyalgia are then referred to participate in a study. The study, conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, will be focused on the use of a vaccine called bCG (bacillus Calmette-Guerin.) The inexpensive vaccine is used worldwide to fight tuberculosis. But it may also have anti-inflammatory benefits which can be helpful in treating fibromyalgia.

Having an accurate diagnosis is important for a lot of reasons. If you or someone you love was diagnosed with ADHD when younger but have the symptoms of fibromyalgia, consider getting the test. You may be able to help others if you participate in the study, too.