Thursday, January 17, 2008

Disease or Not, the Pain Is Very Real - New York Times

To the Editor:

"Drug Approved. Is Disease Real?" (front page, Jan. 14) does a disservice to your readers, including the millions of patients afflicted by fibromyalgia, a debilitating condition. The fact that Western medicine does not yet understand a condition does not make it any less "real."

Millions of people suffer from the physical pain and crippling fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. We are not hypochondriacs, but sick people in search of a cure, and of more compassionate medical care.

Would that it were true that fibromyalgia patients "obsess over aches that other people simply tolerate"; in truth, they suffer from pain other people can scarcely imagine. To imply, as the article does, that doctors who advocate on behalf of these patients are somehow "in the pocket" of the pharmaceutical industry is to betray a stunning degree of cynicism, and of callow disregard for the real lives and deep suffering of millions of human beings.

Shai Held
New York, Jan. 14, 2008

To the Editor:

The pain of fibromyalgia is real, even if some doctors don't think it is a disease. Fibromyalgia and the related chronic fatigue are syndromes, not discrete diseases. Because there is no single test to identify them does not make them a fiction in the mind of the sufferer.

The pain and discomfort experienced are similar to what ordinary people feel when they have the flu. These are autoimmune disorders, with the exact triggering mechanisms still unknown. There is no cure. Only time and a lower stress lifestyle help.

I am a retired farmer who developed chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia through exposure to grain dust and mold spores. My pain level comes and goes based on my stress level and exposure to airborne proteins and smoke. I have a high pain tolerance, and I take no drugs. When the pain comes, I accept it, and when it goes away, I'm relieved. But it is real.

Fred Schumacher
Mankato, Minn., Jan. 14, 2008

To the Editor:

Your article suggesting that fibromyalgia isn't a disease translates a significant health problem into a polemic. The problem derives from medical materialism. By this I mean that doctors tell patients that nothing's wrong, if no abnormality can be found.

With this stance, patients fall between the cracks of classic medicine left on their own or to the burgeoning alternative medicine industry.

When I took the Hippocratic oath, I didn't pledge to care for only patients with stroke or cancer but instead to do whatever possible to reduce suffering and improve health. Your article will make doctors, relatives and friends of millions with fibromyalgia conclude that their symptoms are just a "physical response to stress, depression, and economic and social anxiety."

This is an opinion ignoring published medical literature showing brain abnormalities in fibromyalgia and drugs that clearly improve patient health.

What's needed is less talk and more federally financed, peer-reviewed research.

Benjamin H. Natelson

Newark, Jan. 15, 2008

The writer, a physician, is a professor of neurosciences and director of the Pain and Fatigue Study Center at U.M.D.N.J.-New Jersey Medical School.

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