Slepian Smith, PLLC

Part 1: Fibromyalgia and recent medical advances

Fibromyalgia is a serious disease that can prevent people from working. At our law firm, we regularly represent Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Insurance claimants with fibromyalgia in their struggle to prove to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that their symptoms and limitations are disabling.

We have written about fibromyalgia in this space before, but recent medical research merits that we revisit the topic.

Why is a fibromyalgia diagnosis sometimes difficult to establish?

Historically, this illness has been hard to prove because most of its symptoms are subjective, meaning experienced by the person, but not measurable on any lab test or other objective measure. According to the Mayo Clinic, the main symptoms are all subjective:

  • Widespread, long-term aching pain, perhaps aggravated by brain processing issues related to overly sensitized pain receptors and transmitters
  • Memory problems
  • Moodiness
  • Sleep disorders like apnea and restless leg syndrome
  • Tiredness even after sufficient sleep
  • Migraines and other headaches
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Cognitive problems, especially with concentration, sometimes called "fibro fog"

Other conditions that may accompany fibromyalgia include:

  • TMJ disorders
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Bladder pain syndrome or BPS

Fibromyalgia often seems to have no specific trigger, but it may develop after an infection or other physical or mental trauma. There may be a genetic component. Risk of fibromyalgia may increase with lupus or arthritis.

Because of the difficulty in diagnosing fibromyalgia, doctors perform lab tests to rule out other conditions like thyroid disease.

There is no treatment or cure. Instead, medical providers may prescribe medications for pain, depression, muscle relaxation as well as occupational, physical and talk therapies. Doctors recommend an overall healthy lifestyle and stress reduction techniques like yoga, massage and others.

Current research

Recent studies have revealed new information about fibromyalgia:

  • Preliminary evidence shows a link between fibromyalgia and insulin resistance or IR, a condition measurable through blood tests. Treatment for IR using metformin, a diabetes drug, also reduced pain associated with fibromyalgia, according to a study published in PLOS ONE on May 6.
  • Researchers are closer to establishing a reliable lab test for fibromyalgia using a vibrational spectroscopy that would measure the unique fingerprint of fibromyalgia in its vibrational energy, according to an article in the December 6, 2018, issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
  • Scientists in Sweden and Massachusetts both found significant brain inflammation in fibromyalgia patients measurable using PET scans, as reported in Science Daily in September 2018.

These and other ongoing fibromyalgia research studies will hopefully support our SSDI and SSI claimants in establishing their disability claims. In part 2 of this post, we will talk about how the SSA analyzes claims based on fibromyalgia.

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