For a very long time, Fibromyalgia has been considered to be of a psychosomatic cause and it has often been mistaken as pure Hypochondria. However, later studies showed that the symptoms shown by the patients who suffer from this syndrome are as real as in the case of any other medical condition.
What made many people (including medical professionals) take patients of Fibromyalgia as hypochondriacs was precisely the fact that they accused a very large number of symptoms which were apparently unrelated to each other or to a common cause.
Frequently, Fibromyalgia patients show signs that were actually classified as symptoms of completely different diseases and syndromes. Depression, Anxiety, Irritable Bowel Disorder, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Insomnia, Restless Leg Syndrome and Lupus are just a few of the misdiagnoses that are still made to Fibromyalgia patients.
To understand why Fibromyalgia and Hypochondria have often (and still are often) mistaken with each other, you should first understand what each of these medical conditions is and what is it that makes them similar and different at the same time.
Fibromyalgia, to start with, is a syndrome that is caused by an actual biological condition, and this is something on which the large majority of medical professionals agree. Regarding the exact causes, research is still being done, but up to the moment there haven’t been any results that would make the most of the specialists agree on one theory only.
The most frequent assumption is related to the neuro-chemical elements in the brain, their levels and how they can affect the perception of pain. Another, more recent theory claims that the high level of blood vessels in the hand may affect how patients feel pain.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia include chronic pain, chronic fatigue, irritated bowels, bad sleeping patterns, joint pain and stiffness, inability to move in the morning, feeling depressed, cognitive issues (such as problems with remembering things, with focusing on something or with speech), very painful menstruations in the case of women, and so on.
On the other hand, Hypochondria is a psychosomatic disorder. That means that it is a mental disorder that can have repercussions over the physical state of the patient. Most often, the development of this mental disorder is caused by stress, by powerful emotional moments (such as the death or the illness of someone close to the patient), by the influence a hypochondriac adult had on the patient’s childhood, by sexual abuse, or by having suffered from a serious illness as a child
Also, Hypochondria may be caused (or it may be worsen) by the widespread information related to certain diseases (Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, pandemics such as the recent “swine flu”, and so on). In the case of the last “cause” of Hypochondria, technology and mass-media seems to play a very important role, as now more than ever, people have access to information that is not always concrete, accurate or complete.
In a nutshell, Hypochondria manifests itself through a very high level of anxiety that patients show in relationship with health issues. They may feel that they suffer from a certain disease or syndrome and, eventually, their body will appear as if it actually showed the symptoms of that particular disease. Very often, the doctor’s response that they are perfectly healthy will not please them and they will continue to search for that doctor that will agree with their assumptions and fears.
What is it that makes Hypochondria and Fibromyalgia so similar? First, it is the large number of apparently random symptoms patients in both cases will accuse. Then, there is the fact that there hasn’t been discovered an actual biological case in either of these two medical conditions. Also, there is no actual cure, but only treatment of the symptoms that appear in each case. Furthermore, anxiety and depression are two common points both hypochondriacs and Fibromyalgia patients show.
Last, but definitely not least, the diagnosis in both of the cases can be very difficult to make (in the case of Fibromyalgia because there is no apparent cause behind multiple random symptoms shown by patients, and in the case of Hypochondriacs because although they actually believe they show those symptoms, they do not actually suffer from any actual disease).
What makes the two medical conditions different, though? Put very shortly, the fact that in the case of Fibromyalgia patients actually suffer because of their symptoms and they are in actual, physical pain that has not been “induced” mentally.
Moreover, although the treatment in both cases shows common points, its main purpose is actually different. Very often, both Fibromyalgia patients and hypochondriacs will be prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depressive drugs, as well as sleeping pills. In addition to these though, the first group of patients will be prescribed pain killers as well.
Therapy is another thing patients of both medical conditions will have to undergo, but its target will be completely different. Furthermore, hypochondriacs may need to establish a strong relationship with a doctor they trust and who will show them exactly when certain real disease symptoms appear.
Diagnosis can also be different. In the first stage of the medical consultation, only certain inquiries will be made and both Fibromyalgia suspects and potential hypochondriacs will say that they do show the symptoms described by the doctor. However, further investigation will be done and it will involve technical equipment (CT scans, MRIs, blood tests, and so on), which will show if the patient is actually ill or not.
The best thing to do if you, or anyone near you, accuse a lot of symptoms that appear completely unexpectedly and without a known cause, is to go and see a doctor. Only a professional will be able to tell the difference and he/she will be able to recommend adequate treatment (which may include drugs, relaxation methods, alternative medicine techniques or a combination of all three of them). It is important to bear in mind that until the (in)existence of a disease is actually proven by medical investigation, you cannot be sure of your condition (or that of a loved one).