The Social Security Disability System does not, at this time, recognize fibromyalgia in the Listing of Impairments that the Social Security Administration uses to authorize disability benefits. Although fibromyalgia can cause severe disability to those who suffer from the syndrome, the nature of fibromyalgia makes a disability finding by the Social Security Administration difficult, particularly if the diagnosis is not made in conjunction with another debilitating condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Fibromyalgia, also know as FMS (fibromyalgia syndrome) causes widespread pain in the soft tissues and severe, debilitating fatigue. Many sufferers say they “ache all over” and describe the symptoms as similar to the aches and pains that often accompany the flu. The difference is that, in fibromyalgia, the pain, though it may wax and wane in intensity, is chronic. The symptoms are similar to those found in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and many experts believe the two syndromes may actually be the same condition. Similar symptoms are also found in the condition known as Gulf War Syndrome. Some experts believe that between three and six percent of Americans may suffer with the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

The most common symptom of fibromyalgia is deep muscular pains that may present as throbbing, shooting, stabbing or burning. The pain is often most severe in the morning and in muscle groups that are used in repetitive actions. Virtually all fibromyalgia patients suffer fatigue that can range from mild to severe. Many patients also suffer from a range of sleep disorders. Other common symptoms are constipation, diarrhea and abdominal pain. A 1997 research study showed that three of four fibromyalgia patients have some level (from mild to severe) of jaw discomfort. Migraine or tension headaches affect about half of all fibromyalgia patients. Because of the chronic nature of the syndrome, fibromyalgia can cause long-term disability.

The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. Researchers now believe that genetic factors may predispose individuals to fibromyalgia. The syndrome itself may be triggered by a viral or bacterial infection or by trauma. Fibromyalgia symptoms may also appear in conjunction with the development of other conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or hypothyroidism. Most experts now believe that these triggers do not cause fibromyalgia, but rather “awaken” a physical abnormality that was already present. In fact, recent scientific studies show multiple abnormalities in fibromyalgia patients including increased levels of Substance P in the spinal cord, low blood flow to the thalamus area of the brain, and low levels of serotonin and tryptophan.

Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnosis. Because no laboratory test can pinpoint a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, it can take years for patients to receive an accurate diagnosis. Doctors must rely on patient histories and self-reported symptoms along with a physical examination that includes a manual tender point exam based on the standardized ACR criteria. Because fibromyalgia is so difficult to diagnose and the symptoms can vary so widely, the Social Security Administration often will require a diagnosis from a specialist rather than a family practitioner to approve disability benefits.

Treatment includes over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers, low doses of antidepressants and a regimen of gentle exercise and stretching.

More information about fibromyalgia is available from the National Fibromyalgia Association, the American Fibromyalgia Association, Inc., the Fibromyalgia Network or on the fibromyalgia page of the National Institutes of Health websites.

This summary cannot cover every medical condition and/or functional loss. The Social Security Administration offers more detail on its website.

Disability Impairments | Immune Systems Disorders | Lupus,chronic auto-immune disease | FMS soft tissues, debilitating fatigue,chronic pain.

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