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History of Fibromyalgia

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Updated: June 15, 2006

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Although the term “fibromyalgia” was not coined until 1976, throughout history people have reported illnesses with strikingly similar symptoms. These reports can be found as far back as Old Testament Biblical times.
Early Evidence: Following is Job’s vivid description of his physical anguish: “I, too, have been assigned months of futility, long and weary nights of misery. When I go to bed, I think, `When will it be morning?' But the night drags on, and I toss till dawn…And now my heart is broken. Depression haunts my days. My weary nights are filled with pain as though something were relentlessly gnawing at my bones.” (Job 7:3-4; 30:16-17 - NLT)
Another well-known person who reported fibromyalgia-like symptoms was Florence Nightingale, an English army nurse during the Crimean War (1854-1856) who was a pioneer in the International Red Cross Movement. Nightingale became ill while working on the front lines and never really recovered. She was virtually bedridden much of the rest of her life with pain and fatigue resembling fibromyalgia until her death in 1910.
Terminology: This mysterious illness has been studied since the 1800’s and has been identified by a variety of names, including hysterical paroxysm, muscular rheumatism and fibrositis. The term fibromyalgia was first coined in 1976 in an effort to describe its primary symptom. (Fibro – meaning fibrous tissue, my – meaning muscle, and algia – meaning pain)
It wasn’t until 1990, when the American College of Rheumatology developed a diagnostic criteria for doing fibromyalgia research, that the term fibromyalgia gained wide usage.
Theories: Over the years there have been a multitude of theories as to what fibromyalgia is and what causes it. As the term fibromyalgia implies, it was logically thought to be a muscle disease, since muscle pain seemed to be the primary symptom. However, research studies could fine nothing wrong with the muscles. For a while, it was theorized that it might be an autoimmune disorder, but once again research revealed no disturbance of the immune system.
Sadly, as often happens when medical science cannot identify an illness using standard technology of the day, for most of the past 200 years fibromyalgia was thought to be a psychiatric or psychosomatic disorder. Even today, there are a few medical professionals who insist on hanging on to this theory.
Answers: Fortunately, the 21st century has brought new laboratory tests and brain-imaging technology that has not only proven fibromyalgia to be a real physical disorder, but has also shown that it is caused by a malfunction of the central nervous system. As a result of these discoveries, new, more effective treatments are on the horizon. Hopefully, one day the history of fibromyalgia will be just that –– past history.
Sources:
Florence Nightingale - A Biography, R.E.S.C.I.N.D., 1997-2000,
Fibromyalgia, Wikipedia, 2006,

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