Inaccuracy in the diagnosis of fibromyalgia syndrome: analysis of referrals

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2003 Feb;42(2):263-7. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keg075.


Objective: To examine prospectively the accuracy of an initial diagnosis for fibromyalgia (FM).

Methods: All patients newly referred for rheumatology consultation in a 6-month period were evaluated prospectively for either a preceding, current or subsequent diagnosis of FM. Clinical characteristics, previous and subsequent management and health care utilization were assessed. The final diagnosis at 6 months was verified and accuracy regarding the diagnosis of FM was assessed.

Results: Seventy six (12%) of all new patients were either referred with a question of FM or finally diagnosed with FM. At the final evaluation the accuracy of the diagnosis regarding FM by either the referring physician or by the rheumatologist at the time of the initial visit was correct in 34% of patients. The FM group in comparison with those with some other rheumatological diagnosis had more tender points (12.5 vs 4) and were more fatigued. In contrast, prolonged early morning stiffness and limitation of lumbar spinal mobility in more than one plane was more common in the non-FM group.

Conclusion: There is a disturbing inaccuracy, mostly observed to be overdiagnosis, in the diagnosis of FM by referring physicians. This finding may help explain the current high reported rates of FM and caution physicians to consider other diagnostic possibilities when addressing diffuse musculoskeletal pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physical Examination
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quebec
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Rheumatic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Syndrome