New hope for fibromyalgia sufferersAs many as 10 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, a chronic condition most noted by pain and fatigue. Despite a host of symptoms, experts say it is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood -- even by doctors. But now, new research is leading to new hope.
Experts say one problem is not all doctors are familiar with the condition. The symptoms are often vague and seem unrelated, and conventional tests typically come back normal.
"It doesn't have any markers to standard blood tests or x-rays. There's nothing in the blood that says, 'I have fibromyalgia.' There's nothing you're going to see on an x-ray," said fibromyalgia researcher Dr. Patrick Wood.
"It's a diagnosis of exclusion. Once you rule out more organic causes, diagnosis of fibromyalgia comes in," said rheumatologist Dr. Dan La.
Fibromyalgia was first identified more than 10 years ago. Yet there are still doctors who question whether the condition exists. Some suggest the symptoms are psychosomatic.
"There are still doctors who feel that," said Dr. La. "From my standpoint, I've seen these patients, some science behind it as well."
The exact cause isn't known, but some experts think stress or genetics may play a role. And while it's considered a muscle and joint condition, the majority of research - like that conducted by Dr. Wood - focuses on the brain.
"Changes in brain chemistry and levels of chemicals, such as dopamine or serotonin, are believed to be implicated," said Dr. Wood.
Recently, the FDA approved Lyrica as the first drug to treat fibromyalgia. Dr La says it's working for half of the patients he's prescribed it for.
Patients hope the FDA's move to approve Lyrica has legitimized the syndrome in the eyes of skeptics.