Why conventional medical doctors fail fibromyalgia patients (and what to do instead)

This article was originally published on NationalPainReport.com. It is being republished here with permission from the editor. This article contains an Amazon affiliate link. 

Within six months of my fibromyalgia diagnosis, it was evident to me that recovery was not going to come from a conventional medical doctor (MD) doling out prescription medications. I have way too many health problems for them to be solved during a routine 15-minute doctor’s visit.

I haven’t seen my fibromyalgia specialist since 2014, and I doubt I ever will. I’ve given up on the conventional medical model because it is a dismal failure when it comes to treating chronic conditions like fibromyalgia.

Why conventional medical doctors fail #fibromyalgia patients (and what to do instead) | Fed Up with Fatigue

Now please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying every conventional MD is bad. There are still some good doctors within our medical system.

But if you have fibromyalgia, you’re never going to get better if you rely on standard medical treatment as it exists today. Here’s why the conventional medical system is failing the fibromyalgia community and what to do instead.

Reason #1: Fibromyalgia is complicated.

Conventional MDs are trained to listen to symptoms, diagnose the cause and prescribe a treatment within minutes.

But fibromyalgia is not like the common cold or a urinary tract infection. It doesn’t go away by taking medicine for a week. Fibromyalgia symptoms are numerous, random and diverse. Multiple systems in the body are affected. Put simply, fibromyalgia causes too many problems for a conventional MD to manage within the confines of the current system.

Reason #2: MDs don’t have the time.

As I alluded to earlier, the average doctor’s visit is about 15 minutes in length. That works for simple complaints like toenail fungus. It doesn’t work when a patient comes in with a list of 20+ symptoms.

I understand why our doctors get overwhelmed. They’re used to 1 + 1 = 2, and we’re walking in and expecting them to be a master at calculus.

Reason #3: Most MDs don’t know jack about fibromyalgia.

We assume our doctors know more about our illness than we do, but sadly that’s usually not the case.

To be fair, it’s really not their fault. Fibromyalgia research is still in its infancy. We don’t know what causes it or how to effectively treat it.

And as new research slowly trickles out, it gets overlooked because doctors have little free time to read up on the latest studies.

What’s the result? Our doctors keep falling back on the same ineffective treatments they’ve been recommending for more than a decade: Exercise, Lyrica and Cymbalta. Oh joy! Those treatments may work for some of us, but not for most of us.

Reason #4: Many conventional MDs aren’t willing to try new things.

Even when the typical fibromyalgia treatments fail, too many doctors are afraid of deviating from the mainstream standard of care. When we ask about an emerging treatment we’ve read about online, we are met with a blank stare because 1. our doctor hasn’t heard of it and/or 2. it’s not on our doctor’s mental list of safe and approved treatments.

I’m sure this lack of risk-taking is partially due to the fear of medical malpractice lawsuits, but it’s a real detriment to patients who are basically sent home to suffer.

Reason #5: Fibromyalgia patients need more than symptom management.

We will never recover as long as our doctors focus only on managing symptoms. The truth is we need more than a doctor; we need a detective. We need a doctor who will look at our entire spectrum of symptoms and try to figure out the root cause of them. We don’t need someone who just keeps writing prescriptions in an attempt to cover them up.

As I have said many times before, our bodies do not go haywire for no reason. There is an underlying cause (or more likely, causes) for fibromyalgia!

We need doctors who are educated in thyroid and adrenal issues, heavy metal toxicity, mold illness, chronic Lyme, parasites, food sensitivities, mitochondrial dysfunction, calming the overreactive stress response, multiple chemical sensitivity and the myriad of other factors that can contribute to fibromyalgia symptoms. If you ask your conventional doctor about any of the things I just listed, chances are you will get that blank stare again. They will have no clue what you’re talking about because their drug reps have never mentioned any of those things. (And yes, I’m fully aware of how jaded that last statement sounds.)

What to do when conventional medicine has failed

The only progress I’ve made in my health journey has been with the help of doctors who are not part of the conventional medical model. I’ve had the best results with functional medicine doctors and those who practice integrative medicine. I’ve also heard positive things about naturopaths and osteopaths.

What do all of these medical providers have in common? They tend to look at the health of the body as a whole – not just individual symptoms.

Unlike conventional MDs who usually take a band-aid approach to illness by prescribing drugs to cover up symptoms, these practitioners try to look deeper into the underlying causes of why the body has broken down. Then, they treat THAT, not just the symptoms.

Most of them understand that addressing chronic illness is much like peeling an onion. Oftentimes, there is no ONE cause for chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia. There are usually multiple reasons (see my list under #5 for a few of them) why a person has fallen ill. They take a more investigative approach to medical care.

So how do you find a doctor who practices in this way? A few resources include the Institute for Functional MedicineDoctors of Osteopathic Medicine, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and the International College of Integrative Medicine. Each of these websites has a find-a-practitioner tool.

You can also try googling your locality name, fibromyalgia and one of these keywords: functional medicine, integrative medicine, naturopath or osteopath.

Obviously not every doctor in these fields is going to be an expert in fibromyalgia. You’ll need to do your research to find one who is knowledgeable.

Another drawback is that many of the doctors in these practice areas do not accept health insurance. It will likely take some research to find one who does, or you may have to pay out of pocket for treatment if you have the financial resources.

So, what should you do if there’s no way to access these types of practitioners?

In that case, I would try to find an open-minded doctor in your area and then purchase two copies of Dr. Ginevra Liptan’s book, “The Fibro Manual” – one for yourself and one for your MD.

Dr. Liptan is a fibromyalgia specialist who also has fibromyalgia. “The Fibro Manual” is a step-by-step guide for both patients and doctors, covering Dr. Liptan’s integrative approach to treating fibromyalgia. There’s a chapter on how to effectively partner with your doctor on treatment and an appendix in the back with citations to research and other helpful information for your healthcare provider.

In my opinion, “The Fibro Manual” is the best fibromyalgia-related book on the market right now. Every fibromyalgia patient should read it.

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever worked with a fibromyalgia doctor who practices outside of the conventional medical model? What were your results? 


  1. This is such a great article! I’m just now getting to it and I’m so connecting with everything it’s saying. The Fibro Manual was a great resource for me.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says

      Yes, I think that book is the BEST fibro book on the market today! I’m glad you found the post helpful!

  2. Rebecca says

    My Doctors stance. Im trying her anti-viral protocol. She’s a great Doctor, we’re lucky to have her. She researches all the time.

  3. Has anyone tried Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) as treatment?

  4. Alicia says

    We’ve tried non-conventional doctors, but only had small improvement before we run out of money to throw at them. It’s so frustrating that insurance will pay for poisonous meds,but not helpful supplements.

  5. Chelle says

    I like the idea of buying my doctor a copy of this book (and one for me) because you are right, doctors don’t have the time needed to help you, especially when we spend the appointment educating our doctors! I’m just wondering if anyone has done this? And what was the doctors response (did they read it?)

    • I just attended the 2017 ILADS Meeting in Boston there was a study presented that a lot of FM CBS patients had toxic mold exposure. Therefore get a urine screen for mold exposure but be sure to give your urine sample an hour after a 30 min. sauna treatment spread the word.

  6. Julie E Parsons says

    Yes! In the beginning stage of my illness I had an intergraded doctor and it was so awesome. He taught me a lot on my symptoms and how to treat myself when able and taught me to slow down and breathe. It was great to see an immunologist, allergiest, rheumatologist and a fictional MD. It lasted three years then the immunologist went to work at the CDC on research team for fibro. He transferred my case to my functional MD. Since then I have had three more MD’s and three surgeons. The doctor I have now knows a little bit about fibro and I bring her many articles on what is new in Fibromyalgia. She tries her best and because I now live in a small community. So if I needed a specialist she will refer me. I just had that happen a couple of weeks ago. Had to travel two hours to be told there was not anything wrong with my breast issue. It was good news but I had to travel to find that out! Not rich by any means! I guess I’m doing the best I can with my illness.

    • I had 2 Drs way back who diagnosed me…they’d put me on meds that, i guess, put me in remission…. After a number of, relatively, pain free years it hit me again, full force, about 2~3 years ago…n I’ve been in such pain ever since…
      I’m now living in a very small town in West Texas n I have to travel 20 miles to see a Dr. I like him n cares for my migraines in the ER or clinic. My pain is excruciating almost all the time….

  7. Donna Gulyas says

    My doctor is an Osteopathic Doctor who specializes in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology. He’s the only doctor I have had that really knows a decent amount about Fibromyalgia, but doesn’t seem very knowledgeable about my ME/CFS. But, he started treating me with a couple of antivirals this year. They are helping with my Fibro pain, but not so much with my M.E. total body exhaustion that has kept me homebound for the past 3+ years. I’m hoping that it means that, since my M.E. is so severe, that it’s going to take more time to start showing positive results with my M.E. He’s a doctor who actually listens and cares. He’s also very knowlegeable about Hashimotto’s Disease and how to treat me for it. No more ordinary MD’ for me. My last one told me he was clueless on how to take care of me because I have too many medical problems, and told me to find someone who can. That’s when I started looking for a D.O. I’m happier with my medical care now.

  8. Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says

    Thank you for including me in your article!


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