Seeing a Fibromyalgia Doctor: How to Make the Most of Your Visit

A successful treatment plan is built on good communication between you and your doctor. This is true even for a fibromyalgia doctor, or a one specializing in treating chronic pain.

The questions you and your doctor ask each other are the starting point to finding real recovery from fatigue and pain.

Getting the Right Diagnosis

The right treatment addresses the true cause of your symptoms. Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose correctly, because several other conditions can cause pain and extreme fatigue. Arthritis, lupus, thyroid problems, or side effects to medicines can cause pain, poor sleep quality and even confusion and anxiety,

There’s no ‘biological marker’ – no single blood test, lab result, or tell-tale symptom that confirms you have fibromyalgia.

So, you and your doctor both need to answer this question first, when you seek treatment:

Is this fibromyalgia, or are there other causes for these symptoms?

Your doctor will use your account of your symptoms, and the results of several laboratory tests, to diagnoses your condition correctly. A correct diagnosis and health assessment is the start of the right course of treatment for you.

Be Prepared to Answer Questions Well

You can help your doctor if you prepare for your visit ahead of time. It may take some careful observation, time to think through your past experience, and even some written notes, to give the most helpful answers about your pain.

A doctor who specializes in treating fibromyalgia will want to learn:

  1. How long have you been having the symptoms? “A long time” does not give your doctor meaningful information. To prepare for this question, think about what you were doing when you first started noticing the symptoms – recall holidays, events at work, or activities you did at a certain time (like back-to-school shopping)
  2. Where is the pain located? Think in terms of specific muscle areas, joints. You may think you just ‘ache all over,’ and if that’s true that’s what your doctor needs to know. If you can, be specific about where the pain is located, especially if you feel tender spots. This gives your doctor the information to plan the right tests and treatment strategies.
  3. How severe is your pain? Pain is hard to describe objectively. Your doctor will most likely ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, in each location that you feel pain.
  4. How do your pain symptoms impact your life? Your life includes work, daily routines like eating, exercising and sleeping, and personal activities. If you feel better or worse after eating or doing certain things, be specific. If sleep is difficult, make note of how much sleep you get at night, and if it’s interrupted.
  5. What medications are you taking? What have you tried? You can answer this by bringing the actual medicine with you, or bring a list of medications and the dose. Include over-the-counter medicines and any nutrition or herbal supplements you may be taking. Get copies of recent lab and medical records sent in advance.

It’s also important be ready with questions you have for the doctor. Feel free to write them down and bring them. You probably want to ask:

  • Is this definitely fibromyalgia we’re dealing with?
  • What kind of relief should I expect from pain medications?
  • How long should I wait for the medicines to start working?
  • What else can we do if this treatment doesn’t work?
  • How much better can I expect to feel long-term?

If you feel stressed when seeing the doctor, you don’t have to go alone – find a trusted family member or friend to go with you. This can help a lot if you are feeling overwhelmed. A family member can help you recall what you and your doctor discussed.

After your first visit, plan to have follow-up visits with your doctor. Getting control over your fibromyalgia symptoms is a process. It involves the science of pain medication, non-drug therapies including exercise, nutrition and healthy eating, and trial and error to find what helps you get the upper hand on pain.

By talking with your doctor, you can start to make sense of your symptoms and learn what to do about them. Working together, you can determine which drug treatments, natural therapies and self-care is key to the quality of your recovery.

About Dr. Keller

Dr. Betty Keller practices integrative medicine at the Optimal Wellness Center in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. She is a board certified doctor specializing in fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, weight loss, medical acupuncture and disease prevention, serving Franklin Lakes, Wyckoff, NJ, and nearby areas.