Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by extreme pain all over the body, as well as sleep issues, fatigue and, in many cases, resulting mental and emotional distress, says the CDC. The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. While this condition impacts two percent of adults in the U.S. population, Medscape reports that Black women suffer higher rates of fibromyalgia than white women.
According to the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics (the AMA), twenty-seven percent of Black people over the age of 50 suffer from severe pain all of the time. This figure is only 17 percent in white patients. It might come as no surprise that, while this condition impacts the Black community at higher rates, the quality of attention and care they get for it is far lower than it is for white patients. Given that today is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, let’s take a closer look at this painful condition and how it shows up in the Black community.
Symptoms Of Fibromyalgia
Diagnosing fibromyalgia can be complicated as many of its symptoms are also associated with other conditions. Some of these include pain and stiffness throughout the body, extreme fatigue, depression and anxiety, insomnia, difficulty concentrating and headaches.
Recognizing fibromyalgia in Black patients can prove even more difficult because many of these symptoms are already more common in the Black population, separate from fibromyalgia. A survey conducted by Fast Company showed that insomnia is more common in Black patients than white ones. The National Library of Medicine reports that headaches are more common and more severe in Black patients. The National Alliance of Mental Illness reports that Black patients often report depression while reporting physical pain. With these fibromyalgia symptoms already so prevalent – independent of the condition – in the Black community, diagnosis becomes more complex.
There are certain factors that put a person at a higher risk for developing fibromyalgia. First off, it’s most commonly diagnosed in people of middle age or older. It’s also more common in women than in men, says the CDC. But then, there are some risk factors for this condition that are already more prevalent in the Black community, including having suffered traumatic or stressful events. Obesity is another risk factor for fibromyalgia that plagues the Black community at a higher rate than other groups, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
Doctors Under-Assess Pain In Black Patients
One more factor stands in the way of Black patients receiving proper diagnosis and treatment: bias in the medical community. The AMA study found that clinicians rate the pain levels of their Black patients as lower than those of white patients, even though the pain was reported as higher by Black patients themselves. In fact, studies have found that pain thresholds are lower in Black patients. This failure to recognize the true pain levels of Black patients results in under-prescription of treatment and medication.
Doctors Withhold Medication
There are several possible treatments for Fibromyalgia, including aerobic exercises, massage and even cognitive behavioral therapy. However, the most effective is a prescription medication, sometimes in the form of muscle relaxants. However, in spite of the fact that opioid abuse is less common in Black patients, doctors are less likely to prescribe these to Black patients than white patients. When they are prescribed, the dosages are typically lower than they are for white patients, says the AMA.