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The History of Fibromyalgia

It Dates Further Back Than You May Realize!

Did you know that Fibromyalgia was documented in medical literature dating back to 1592?

Read on to learn more…

Fibromyalgia is best characterized by the musculoskeletal pain that affects most parts of the body, in addition to its associated fatigue, sleep, mood and memory issues.

About fibromyalgia

Many researchers assume fibromyalgia causes pain sensation within the body to amplify, mainly through affecting how the brain interprets pain signals. On an interesting note, people with fibromyalgia are also likely to have other conditions, such as tension headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and anxiety.

The symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, in some cases, start following physical trauma, bodily infections, surgery or after experiencing significant psychological stress. Some people develop fibromyalgia over time, experiencing symptoms gradually with no single event triggering the condition. Women are know to have a higher risk of developing fibromyalgia than men.

Fibromyalgia actually has no known cure. People with fibromyalgia can, however, use medications and other alternative treatments to reduce the symptoms of the condition.

Although there’s no cure yet, medical researchers and doctors are working to find out more information about the disorder. That way, they may eventually find a cure. Part of understanding a potential cure involves ‘going back in time’ to learn about the history of fibromyalgia.

The history of fibromyalgia

The term fibromyalgia originates from these Greek and Latin root words: fibro, myo and algos. These words, when translated, respectively refer to fibrous tissues, muscles and pain.

When combined as fibromyalgia, they refer to the main symptoms of the condition: painful tendons, ligaments and muscles. Of course, fibromyalgia is best characterized by the widespread pain that blossoms throughout the body’s soft tissues

Early History – Characterization

Fibromyalgia may have existed for centuries before the 1900s. Conditions with symptoms similar to fibromyalgia have been recorded in medical journals since the early 1800s. There are even reports of similar illness with fibromyalgia-like symptoms dating back to as early as 1500BC.

Fibromyalgia was first thought as a mental disorder, due to the fact that little information about early fibromyalgia existed at the time. Doctors actually first described a fibromyalgia-like condition as early as the 1800s. The condition, known as muscular rheumatism, had symptoms like stiffness, aches, pains, fatigue and trouble sleeping.

One of the most notable early accounts of fibromyalgia actually comes from the Bible. The passages Job 7:3-4 and 30:16-17 describe his physical pain, which demonstrated similarities to fibromyalgia.

Another early real life case of fibromyalgia happened to Florence Nightingale in the mid 1800s. She fell ill with fibromyalgia-like symptoms when working during the Crimean War, and ‘never completely recovered’ from the condition. She spent most of her last years bedridden and suffering from fibromyalgia-like pain and fatigue.

Modern fibromyalgia originates from an earlier condition with similar characteristics as fibromyalgia. Fibrostis, which originated from a 1904 lecture held by Sir William Gowers, is the earliest recorded form of fibromyalgia.

Gowers and colleagues believed fibrositis was caused by inflammation originating from the fibrous tissues in the body. Research from the 1970s and 1980s debunked that assumption, proving that no muscle inflammation occurred in cases of fibrositis (fibromyalgia). By then, the research refocused on learning more about the dysfunction of the central nervous system.

By the mid-1970s, fibrostis was changed to fibromyalgia, and 1990 saw the American College of Rheumatology establish the condition’s current criteria for diagnosis.

The Timeline Of Fibromyalgia

As mentioned in the previous sections, fibromyalgia has actually been around for centuries. Although not immediately identified as fibromyalgia, the symptoms of the condition more or less revealed that fibromyalgia was around far earlier than most medical researchers assumed.

In order to understand how fibromyalgia has developed over the years, the following is a timeline of events marking the historical medical development of fibromyalgia.

1592:French physician Guillaume de Baillou introduced the term “rheumatism ” to describe musculoskeletal pain that didn’t originate from injury. This term included fibromyalgia. Doctors eventually, used the diagnosis “muscular rheumatism” for fibromyalgia. This is the first time Fibromyalgia (Rheumatisms) is documented medical literature.
1600s:Symptoms of a condition like fibromyalgia were appointed a name: muscular rheumatism.
1815:Scottish surgeon William Balfour noted nodules or “Tender Points” And these “Tender Points” we’re eventually used to diagnose Fibromyalgia
1816:Dr. William Balfour, a University of Edinburgh surgeon, characterized fibromyalgia for the first time.
1800’s:A few decades later (1800’s), French doctor Francios Valleix used the term “neuralgia” to describe referred pain of Fibromyalgia from tender points traveling along the nerves
1880:American Neurologist George William Beard coined the terms “neurasthenia” and “myelasthenia” to describe widespread pain and fatigue of Fibromyalgia
1904: Sir William Gowers first established the term ‘fibrositis,’ which referred to the inflammation of fibers. It helped described the tender points in people with muscular rheumatism. Fibromyalgia was called “fibrositis” until 1975
1936:Medical documents state fibrositis was the most common form of severe chronic rheumatism. It also outlined fibrositis accounted for 60% of insurance cases for rheumatic disease in Britain
1949:A chapter on the condition fibrositis (Fibromyalgia) was included in the medical text book called “Arthritis and Allied Conditions.” It states: “There can no longer be any doubt concerning the existence of such a condition (Fibromyalgia)”
1968:The first diagnostic medical description of fibrositis (Fibromyalgia) was defined by Researcher Eugene F. Traut
1972:Researcher Dr. Huge Smythe established the foundation for modern fibromyalgia by describing the condition’s encompassing pain and tender points. He wrote a textbook chapter on fibrositis (Fibromyalgia) that had a far-reaching influence on future studies and led to him being called the “grandfather of modern fibromyalgia.” Hugh A. Smythe was the first to describe the widespread symptoms of Fibromyalgia, thus distinguishing it from myfascial pain syndrome
1975:The first sleep electroencephalogram study that identified sleep-related symptoms of fibromyalgia was performed.
1976:While researchers made good progress in describing Fibromyalgia, they still hadn’t uncovered evidence of inflammation. Therefore the name “fibrositis” was renamed as Fibromyalgia: “fibro” meaning connective tissues, “my” meaning muscle, and “algia” meaning pain
1981:The first controlled study, which validated known fibromyalgia-like symptoms and tender points, was published. A study led by Muhammed Yunus, confirmed widespread pain, fatigue and poor sleep were significantly more common in people with fibromyalgia those without Fibromyalgia; the number of tender points of Fibromyalgia was significantly greater; and that multiple other symptoms were significantly more common as well.
1984:First study published linking higher fibromyalgia prevalence in those with rheumatoid arthritis
1985:First controlled study of juvenile fibromyalgia was published
1987:The American Medical Association established fibromyalgia as a legitimate physical condition.
1990:The American College of Rheumatology established official diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia, which was made for research purposes. The fibromyalgia criteria, consisting of widespread pain and tenderness in at least 11 of 18 specific tender points, later became a tool for clinicians, thus standardizing research inclusion criteria around the world, allowing them to properly diagnose patients.
1991:Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire developed for doctors to evaluate function
1992:Discovery of low growth-hormone levels found in people with Fibromyalgia
1993:Studies demonstrate central sensitization and HPA axis abnormalities in Fibromyalgia
1994:Confirmation of elevated substance P (pain messenger) in cerebrospinal fluid in Fibromyalgia
1994:(statistical research results duplicated again in 1998 and 2009) It has been identified between 1-2% of children and adolescents have Fibromyalgia. (Research Source: “Fibromyalgia in children and adolescents: a clinical manifestations and diagnosis” Buskila D, Press J et al. published 1994, Research Source: “Prevalence of Fibromyalgia in Children: A clinical Study Mexican Children” Clark P, Burgos-Vargas R, et al. published 1998/2009).
1995:First U.S. prevalence study shows fibromyalgia in 2% of the world’s population

First SPECT (brain imaging) showing abnormal blood-flow patterns in the brain in those with Fibromyalgia
1999:First study demonstrating genetic component to explain why Fibromyalgia runs in families
2000:Review of evidence in Fibromyalgia coins the term “central sensitization syndromes”
2005:American Pain Society releases first guidelines for treating fibromyalgia pain
2007:The United States Food and Drug Administration approved Lyrica (pregabalin) for fibromyalgia treatment. Since then, Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Savella (milnacipran) [not available in Canada] have also received approval by the FDA for treatment, in 2008 and 2009, respectively
2009:( Statistical Research Duplicated in 2019 as well) Statistical Research Indicates 25%-30% of People Living with Lupus Also Have Fibromyalgia. (Research Source: Hospital For Special Surgery, Education – Orthopedics. Lisa R. Sammaritano, MD, September 28th 2009. Research Source: John Hopkins University of Medicine and John Hopkins Lupus Center. Medical Patient Case Reviews. George Stojan, MD, November 2019)
2010:American College of Rheumatology releases diagnostic criteria for Fibromyalgia using the questionnaires, WPI And SS Diagnostic Assessments for diagnosing and assessing the severity of Fibromyalgia
2012:The United States Social Security Administration determines Fibromyalgia is a life long chronic illness. Further, Fibromyalgia becomes federally protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act and Fibromyalgia meets the Criteria for FMLA or Family Medical Leave Act
2012:The first diagnostic blood test for Fibromyalgia, called “FM/a,” is developed by Epigentics. The FM/a Blood test passes clinical trials and in 2013 obtains FDA approval in the United States. By 2021, the FM/a Blood Test is covered in part, or in full, by many Health Insurance Plans, including Medicaid and Medicare HMO’s.
2013:Researchers at Harvard affiliate General Massachusetts Hospital conducted research which found people with Fibromyalgia experience damage to nerve fibers in the skin and evidence of a disease called small – fiber polyneuropathy in those with Fibromyalgia. (Research Source: “Small Nerve Damage in Fibromyalgia. Massachusetts General Hospital – Anne Louise Outlander, M.D. PHD. et al. Medical Journal “Pain” August 2013.)
2014:Research shows Fibromyalgia afflicts 3% – 5% of the world’s population (Source: “Fibromyalgia – A Clinical Review” by Dr. Daniel J. Claw, April 16, 2014), and upwards of 14 million people in the United States live with Fibromyalgia.
2015:October 1st 2015, Fibromyalgia was reclassified as a Central Nervous System Condition, with the designated diagnostic billing medical code ICD-10-CM CODE M79.7
2016:Researchers found small optical nerve damage in the eyes of those with Fibromyalgia, a significant decrease of the Retinal Nerve Fiber Layer (RNFL) and greater optic thinning in those with Severe Fibromyalgia. (Research Source: “Fibromyalgia is Correlated with Retinal Nerve Fiber Layer Thinning. Elena Garcia-Martin et al. September 2016.)
2016:American College of Rheumatology updates their diagnostic criteria for Fibromyalgia using the questionnaires, WPI And SS Diagnostic Assessments for diagnosing and assessing the severity of Fibromyalgia, streamlining is to make it more user friendly for medical professionals and patients.
2017:Ongoing research and statistical patient surveys found approximately 40% of Fibromyalgia sufferers are men. (Research Source: “Fibromyalgia diagnosis and biased assessment: Sex, prevalence and bias” Wolfe et al. published September 13th, 2018. (Research Source: “Understanding the Impact of Fibromyalgia on Men: Findings From a Nationwide Survey” Heidari, Afshari, & Moosazadeh, published 2017).
2018:A second diagnostic blood test for Fibromyalgia, called “IsolateFibromyalgia,” is developed by iQuity Labs and is FDA approved in the United States. Unfortunately, despite FDA approval and promise, iQuity Labs decided to pull their “IsolateFibromyalgia” blood test and changed direction to do research on Autoimmune Disorders.
2018:combined efforts of research teams at the (Boston) Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)-based Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging in the United States and Karolinska Institutet near Stockholm, Sweden have resulted in a new study showing widespread neuro-inflammation in the brains of fibromyalgia patients. Utilizing MR/PET scans both Research Teams were able to document neuroinflammation — specifically activation of glial cells — in the brains of patients with Fibromyalgia.

The theories and history of fibromyalgia

Over the years, different theories about fibromyalgia have appeared in the medical community. Many of the theories focus on figuring out what causes fibromyalgia, in addition to what the condition may actually be.

For hundreds of years, doctors actually considered a psychological disorder, since there wasn’t enough evidence supporting fibromyalgia as a condition during those early days. Today, we now know fibromyalgia is a disorder with specific symptoms that make people feel constant pain and fatigue.

The 20th century

Starting in the 20th century, fibromyalgia started becoming recognized by medical professionals as a real physical condition. It was first thought to have been a disease within the muscles and surrounding fibrous tissues.

Tests performed on patients with the condition were found to have lacked the damage originating from inflamed muscles and tissues. Some researchers also attributed early fibromyalgia as an autoimmune disorder, but research didn’t find any evidence supporting that.

The 21st century

Once the 21 century arrived, medical researchers and doctors were able to perform better fibromyalgia research. The new laboratory testing methods, along with brain-imaging techniques, allowed researchers to finally identify ‘sensitization of the central nervous system’ in people with fibromyalgia.

With that information in mind, medical researchers and doctors now continue to research fibromyalgia in order to uncover new information about the long term disease.

sources: Fibromyalgia Treating – September 24, 2014 – Kristal Kent – November 9 2021
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