The Social Construction of Fibromyalgia
“With so many people in so much pain, how could fibromyalgia not be a disease?” (Groopman 3) This question regarding the “condition of persistent muscle pain throughout the body, pain that is often accompanied by severe fatigue, insomnia, diarrhea and abdominal bloating, bladder irritation, and headache,” now known as fibromyalgia raises some rather interesting yet complicated issues in today’s health care field such as: What criteria must be met in order for a symptom or a set of symptoms, as is the case here, to be classified as an illness or a disorder? What does the term illness itself mean? What makes up the concept of health? In this paper, I attempt to tackle these questions by examining the process of the social construction, the medicalization, and the medical uncertainties surrounding fibromyalgia. I will first discuss the process of social construction, or the development of a condition as a disorder, also discussing who the key actors in the process are and how everyone involved in the process is affected. Second, I will analyze the process of medicalization, or how a set of symptoms comes to be known as a disorder, complete with treatment and all, of fibromyalgia over the years. Third, I
will look at the medical uncertainties, or doubts about knowledge and treatment, regarding fibromyalgia. Last, I will discuss the possible explanations that have been
given to explain fibromyalgia in patients by physicians who are opposed to medicalizing the disorder.
The term fibromyalgia was introduced in 1990, and since then almost six million Americans, ninety per cent of them being women, have been diagnosed as living with the disorder. Physicians are not sure of the exact cause of the illness, but many of the cases are reported immediately after a traumatic event (Groopman 3). Another puzzling issue here is the absence of any muscular inflammation in the complaining patient or the presence of any abnormal laboratory test results or X-rays. So is it possible for six million patients to be “fooling” physicians? You might have another illness of your own requiring another one of these papers if you’re even considering that absurd idea! Let us begin by defining illness and health. “Modern medicine is based on and dominated by concepts, methods, and principles of the biological sciences…The dominant model of disease today…assumes disease to be fully accounted for by deviations from the norm of measurable biological (somatic) variables” (Mishler 153). “Health, in a positive sense, consists in the capacity of the organism to maintain a balance in which it may be reasonably free of undue pain, discomfort, disability or limitation of action” (Mishler 154). Because of our modern definition and perception of illness or disease, some physicians may ignore patients’ claims of having fibromyalgia, or may even dismiss the patients as “crazy” and...