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"Normally, the sympathetic nervous system turns on to prepare the body for a stressful situation, tightening the muscles and connective tissue to increase their strength, then shutting off when the threat is gone," says Ginevra Liptan, M.
D., author of Over time, a chronically activated sympathetic nervous system can cause chaos throughout the body, keeping muscles tense (leading to pain and tenderness), preventing deep sleep, and ultimately prompting pain-sensing nerves to crank up their signals.
Six million to 10 million Americans are thought to suffer from fibromyalgia, and the majority are female.
But there's enormous confusion over what fibromyalgia truly is, and no reliable diagnostic tests or cures exist.
By 2003, she couldn't pick up her 12-pound dog, she had been let go from her job for failing to keep up with the demands, and her relationship was over.
"I remember praying that a scan would show a brain tumor, because at least then I would have a concrete diagnosis," she says.
With well-recognized conditions like cancer and diabetes, doctors have tools like biopsies and blood glucose tests to help make a concrete diagnosis.
With fibromyalgia, many doctors are still using criteria that originated in 1990, which calls for them to press on 18 spots (including specific points on the neck, elbows, back, and knees).
For Servanne Edlund, 40, a mom of two from Silver Lake, MN, a combination of a nerve-blocking drug and an antidepressant helped lift the pain that led to her diagnosis five years ago."Imagine if someone chopped off your finger," she says."I felt that level of pain, everywhere."Doctors tested Emily for everything from bulging disks and hypothyroidism to lupus and multiple sclerosis—all came back negative."If the patient is tender in 11 of the 18 spots, and other causes have been ruled out, you diagnose them with fibromyalgia," says Dr. In 2010, the American College of Rheumatology stopped recommending the tender-spot exam because of its subjective nature (a patient may feel sore in 13 spots one day and only 10 the next) and added "fatigue" and "brain fog" to the criteria—along with allover pain lasting three to six months that can't be explained by another diagnosis.Complicating matters, fibromyalgia often coexists with other conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome and migraines.