Fibromyalgia (FM) is often treated by a team of healthcare providers.

The first stop in diagnosing and treating FM is typically a primary care provider. Rheumatologists, pain specialists, mental health professionals, and other specialized care providers may also be part of a diagnostic and treatment plan for FM.1

This article will discuss the kinds of providers who diagnose and treat FM, why a diagnosis may be delayed, how to find FM specialists and get referrals, and how to foster a good relationship with FM specialists.

group of healthcare providers
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Providers Who Diagnose and Treat Fibromyalgia 

The first point of contact for a person seeking an explanation for FM symptoms is their primary healthcare provider.2

There are no specific, definitive tests for FM.

FM is diagnosed based on:

  • Symptoms
  • A physical exam
  • Medical history

The healthcare provider may ask you to take surveys or questionnaires—such as the Symptom Severity Scale (SSS) or the Widespread Pain Index and Symptom Severity Scale (WPI)—to better understand your symptoms.3

To rule out conditions with similar symptoms, your healthcare provider may run other tests, such as blood or imaging tests.

Your primary care provider may diagnose FM and/or treat FM themselves, or they may make a referral to a specialist for a diagnosis, treatment, or both. Most commonly, this is a rheumatologist.2

What Is a Rheumatologist?

A rheumatologist specializes in diseases of the bones, joints, and muscles, primarily arthritis. Although FM is not a form of arthritis and does not cause damage to joints, muscles, or bones like arthritis can, rheumatologists treat it because of the similarity of symptoms.4

Other Providers Who Help People With Fibromyalgia

Other healthcare professionals who may be involved in treatment for FM include:

  • Pain management specialists: Trained to evaluate and manage pain using methods such as injections, medications, or spinal cord stimulation5
  • Physical therapists: Use specific exercises and therapies to help ease FM symptoms and promote muscle/joint strength and flexibility
  • Mental health professionals: Psychotherapists and other mental health professionals may use techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT, a type of talk therapy) to help with managing pain, and coping with the physical and emotional challenges of living with FM4
  • Sleep specialists: Address sleep disorders and other issues related to sleep

Why Might a Diagnosis Be Delayed?

Because the symptoms of FM—such as pain and fatigue—are common to many other health conditions, FM can be difficult to recognize. The lack of laboratory or imaging tests that can rule out or confirm FM contributes to the diagnostic challenges. It can take time for a healthcare provider to explore all of your symptoms and to rule out other possible causes for them before determining a diagnosis of FM.1

How Do You Find Fibromyalgia Specialists in Your Area? 

The National Fibromyalgia Association provides information for finding FM resources and specialists, including tools to see reviews of specific doctors.

The American College of Rheumatology offers a directory to search for licensed rheumatologists in the United States and internationally.

Getting Referrals for Fibromyalgia 

If you have a primary care provider, start with that provider when seeking a diagnosis or treatment for FM. If they do not have knowledge or experience with FM, they may refer you to a specialist, such as a rheumatologist. You can also ask them for a referral to a specialist if they don’t offer one.2

When looking for a primary care provider or specialist to help you manage your FM, finding the right fit is key. Talking to others with FM in your area about their experience with providers can be a great resource. Support groups can be helpful for this.

Remember that you don’t have to go with the first provider you see. It is OK to change providers if you don’t feel one is a good fit.

It can be helpful to ask your potential providers questions such as:

  • What is your experience with FM?
  • How many people with FM do you currently treat?
  • Do you offer remote services?
  • Do you give referrals when applicable?
  • Any other questions that are important to you

Your Relationship With Fibromyalgia Specialists 

Communication between you and your FM healthcare provider is key for both the diagnostic and treatment processes.

It’s important to be as clear and accurate as possible about your symptoms, personal and family medical histories, medications (including the vitamins or supplements you are taking), and anything else your healthcare provider might need to know.1

It can be helpful to write down this information before your appointment to be sure you don’t miss anything.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Writing these down before your appointment is also a good idea. Questions you might ask could include:

  • How do you know that my symptoms are due to FM?
  • What treatments do you recommend?
  • If I need to take medication, what are the possible side effects and interactions with other medications I take?
  • What should I do if my symptoms are not helped by treatment or get worse?
  • Are there support groups I can join to connect with others who are living with FM?
  • When should I follow up with you?

You may also find it helpful to:

  • Bring someone with you for support and for a second set of ears.6
  • Write down any information you need to remember that comes up during your appointment, such as instructions or new medications.
  • Find out the best way to contact your provider if necessary.
  • Write down the date, time, location, and any other relevant information about referral or follow-up appointments.

If there is something you aren’t sure of or don’t fully understand, ask for clarification.

Summary

Fibromyalgia can be diagnosed and treated by a primary healthcare provider, but often other specialists are also involved. The most common specialist for FM is a rheumatologist, but others may include pain management specialists, physical therapists, mental health professionals, and sleep specialists.

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By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism. 

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