Have Unexplained Pain? These Questions Could Lead to a Fibromyalgia Diagnosis

New method for diagnosing fibromyalgia allows doctors to bypass tender point exam.

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From back pain, headache and knee pain, to jaw and neck pain, chronic pain disrupts people's lives, resulting in doctor's visits and missed work or school days. One common cause of chronic pain is fibromyalgia, a condition that affects an estimated 5 million Americans. It causes widespread pain and fatigue and is often tied to other health problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome and depression. But the condition is controversial, partly because of the way it's been diagnosed until now—using a tender point exam, in which a doctor applies pressure to 18 points on the body and diagnoses fibromyalgia if the patient reports pain in at least 11 of those points.

[Quiz: How Bad Is Your Pain?]

A new method offers an easier way to diagnose fibromyalgia, using questions that put more emphasis on cognitive problems and other symptoms common in those with the condition. It doesn't require doctors to perform a physical or administer a tender point exam. The new set of questions is expected to result in more fibromyalgia diagnoses because the tender point exam, used for the last 20 years, may have missed many men with fibromyalgia, since they tend to be less sensitive to the pain than women. The American College of Rheumatology, which had previously endorsed the tender point exam, has preliminarily accepted the new method as a diagnostic tool for fibromyalgia pending further research.

[Learn 6 Simple Ways to Improve Symptoms of Fibromyalgia.]

Do you think you may have fibromyalgia? These questions can help you find out. Keep in mind that fibromyalgia must be diagnosed by a doctor, so even if you think you have symptoms, see a medical professional to be sure, says Robert Katz, coauthor of a study describing the new method, published in May's Arthritis Care & Research.

[Read A New Fibromyalgia Remedy: Antiviral Drugs.]

  • Do you have widespread pain? Specifically, determine if the pain is located in seven or more of the following areas: shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, hips, upper legs, lower legs, jaw, chest, neck, or abdomen. (Please note that if you have pain on both sides of the body—say, in both your left and right upper arms—each arm would count separately.)
  • Do you experience any other fibromyalgia symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, problems thinking or remembering, muscle weakness, abdominal pain or cramping, numbness or tingling, dizziness, insomnia, depression, constipation, nausea, nervousness, chest pain, fever, dry mouth, itching, frequent or painful urination, or wheezing?
  • Have your symptoms been present for at least three months?
  • Do you have another medical disorder that may otherwise explain the pain?

If you answer yes to the first three questions and no to the last one, you may have fibromyalgia. Follow-up with your doctor for a full assessment.

[Read: Finding Effective Treatment for Your Chronic Pain and Can I Blame My Aches and Pains on My Sinuses?]