A brief history of fibromyalgia

The term Fibromyalgia was created by rheumatologist Dr. Frederick Wolfe in 1984 to describe a condition affecting primarily women. The term “fibro” was used to designate soft (or fibrous) tissue involvement and “myalgia” is latin for “pain”. Other symptoms of FM include debilitating fatigue, bowel dysfunction and cognitive impairment that is referred to by some patients as “foggy-headed thinking” or “fibro-fog”. The first description of this condition can be found in a text published in 1892 by a physician referred to as the father of modern medicine, Sir William Osler. In his text The Principles and Practice of Medicine: Diseases of the Nervous System he describes a condition termed “Neurasthenia” as one that is associated with “sleeplessness, unhealthy reaction to stimuli, weariness on the least exertion, and the constant complaint is that of aching pain in the back of the neck.” This is not a new condition and it is one that affects women more than men in a 7:1 ratio. It is also a very common condition with Dr. Wolfe reporting that 22% of women by the age of 70 suffer from chronic diffuse muscle pain (Wolfe, A&R 1995;38:19-28).

Dr. Wolfe also reports that “The average yearly cost for service utilization among fibromyalgia patients is $2,274 (1994 US dollars). They report more symptoms and comorbid or associated conditions than patients with other rheumatic conditions.” The condition is also difficult to treat with Dr. Wolfe reporting that “Conventional medical care does not alter the prognosis or outcome of fibromyalgia.”(Wolfe, A&R 1997;40:560 -1570). Fibromyalgia is “An age-old malady begging for respect” (Powers,Gen Int Med, 1993;8:2) as many doctors find it frustrating to treat a disease that does not often improve. Because the condition is associated with and exacerbated by stress it is convenient to write it off, and some physicians have, as a condition that is “all in your head”.

Physician frustration with fibromyalgia is apparent in articles such as “Fibromyalgia: scourge of humankind or bane of a rheumatologist’s existence?”; frustration that stems from the costly nature of treating a condition with a poor response rate. Solomon & Liang report that few FM patients recovered during the 7 year period they studied (Solomon & Liang, A&R 1997;40:1553-1555). For these reasons, it is common for both doctors and patients have a sense of futility when fibromyalgia enters the picture. The advancement in FM & CFS research has lead to new medications and new treatment protocols that target the specific physiologic abnormalities encountered in patients suffering from these conditions. Thankfully, successful treatment is no longer a rare event. Please see the"Milestones in FM Research" section for a synopsis of important breakthroughs in FM & CFS related research.

Milestones in Fibromyalgia Research