Is fibromyalgia a distinct clinical syndrome?

Curr Rev Pain. 2000;4(4):287-94. doi: 10.1007/s11916-000-0105-4.


The validity of the fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) as a distinct clinical entity has been challenged for several reasons. Many skeptics express concern about the subjective nature of chronic pain, the subjectivity of the tender point (TeP) examination, the lack of a gold standard laboratory test, and the absence of a clear pathogenic mechanism by which to define FMS. Another expressed concern has been the relative nature of the pain-distress relationship in the rheumatology clinic. The apparently continuous relationship between TePs and somatic distress across a variety of clinical disorders is said to argue against FMS as a separate clinical disorder. The most aggressive challenges of the FMS concept have been from legal defenses of insurance carriers motivated by economic concerns. Other forms of critique have presented as psychiatric dogma, uninformed posturing, suspicion of malingering, ignorance of nociceptive physiology, and occasionally have resulted from honest misunderstanding. It is not likely that a few paragraphs of data and logic will cause an unbeliever to change an ingrained opinion. Therefore, this review describes the clinical manifestations of FMS, responds to some of the theoretic arguments against it, and discusses some possible pathophysiologic mechanisms by which FMS may develop and persist as a unique syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / pathology
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Demography
  • Fibromyalgia / diagnosis*
  • Fibromyalgia / epidemiology
  • Fibromyalgia / physiopathology*
  • Fibromyalgia / psychology
  • Humans
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Neurosecretory Systems / pathology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology
  • Nociceptors / pathology
  • Nociceptors / physiopathology
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Pain Threshold / psychology
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology
  • Substance P / metabolism


  • Substance P