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It’s official. Fibromyalgia is real. How do I know? Because I just saw an ad for a drug to treat it. Lyrica (pregabalin) is now allowed to claim that it may help patients with fibromyalgia (FMS). When The New York Times ran the story on January 14, 2008, the headline was: “Drug Approved. Is Disease Real?” In clinical trials Lyrica has been shown to reduce pain by about 2 points on a scale of 10, compared to 1 point for a placebo. It has significant side effects, including weight gain, dizziness, and sleeplessness, problems that are already associated with fibromyalgia. Nevertheless, Pfizer spent $46 million dollars advertising the drug in the first nine months of 2007. Other drugs that have been prescribed for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue include antidepressants, narcotics, sedatives, anti-anxiety drugs, drugs designed to control epileptic seizures, amphetamines, muscle relaxants, Botox®, and even a drug used for chemotherapy.

Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by widespread pain in joints and fibrous tissues without the outward signs of inflammation (redness, heat, and swelling) that are usually present in rheumatic conditions. Insomnia, irritable bladder and irritable bowel syndrome, restless legs, dysmenorrhea, cold sensitivity, Reynaud’s phenomenon, hypoglycemia, tinnitus (ringing ears), headaches, and eczema, as well as mental confusion and the inability to concentrate (called fibro fog) frequently accompany the chronic pain and fatigue that characterize the condition. FMS sufferers also exhibit tender points all over their bodies—these are lumps of swollen or knotted tissue that are extremely painful to the touch. Pain medications, even powerful narcotics, offer little relief. Although the lumps can be felt, and brain scans have shown that the pain is real, there is no test to confirm fibromyalgia. It is the default diagnosis after everything else has been ruled out. It is estimated that 10 million adults in America suffer from the disorder.

Many health practitioners do not consider FMS to be a real disease but believe that these patients are hypochondriacs and whiners who are suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, mental illness, or just laziness. They are often told to suck it up and quit complaining by people who have no idea how it feels to suffer from chronic, relentless pain and debilitating fatigue. This attitude comes in part from the fact that fibromyalgia is often accompanied by so many other nebulous conditions, and 85 percent of sufferers are middle-aged women. (The same complaints that are labeled fibromyalgia in a woman are likely to be diagnosed as chronic fatigue in a man; it is the same disease. It may be called one or the other depending on whether pain or fatigue is the predominate symptom.)

Dr. Frederick Wolfe, who was the lead author of the 1990 paper that first defined fibromyalgia, has changed his mind. He now says, ”Some of us in those days thought that we had actually identified a disease, which this clearly is not…To make people ill, to give them an illness, was the wrong thing.” Dr. George Ehrlich, a rheumatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, observed that most people ”manage to get through life with some vicissitudes, but we adapt.…People with fibromyalgia do not adapt.” I think I see part of the problem; who wouldn’t be depressed, stressed, and anxious with doctors like these?

We need a hero. Dr. Richard Bernstein has been a champion for those with diabetes, working tirelessly to educate and heal patients while being ignored by mainstream medicine. Dr. Robert Atkins and Dr. Michael Eades continued to tell the truth about what constitutes a healthful diet while being marginalized and ridiculed by a misguided health establishment. Gary Taubes risked his own credibility and career to expose the lack of science that serves as the basis for much of modern medical practice. Fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome desperately needs such a hero. I think I have found one.

To be continued: We Need a Hero, Part 2

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