Fibromyalgia Often Misunderstood

The conclusion by a Social Security Administrative Law Judge that fibromyalgia must not be a debilitating impairment when “practically all tests have been normal” is not an uncommon error. As Judge Chief Judge Posner wrote in Sarchet v. Charter, 78 F.3d 305, 306 (7th Cir. 1996), fibromyalgia is a:

“common, but elusive and mysterious, disease. . . its cause or causes are unknown, there is no cure, and, of greatest importance to disability law, its symptoms are entirely subjective. There are no laboratory tests for the presence or severity of fibromyalgia. The principal symptoms are “pain all over,” fatigue, disturbed sleep, stiffness, and–the only symptom that discriminates between it and other diseases of a rheumatic character–multiple tender spots, more precisely 18 fixed locations on the body (and the rule of thumb is that the patient must have at least 11 of them to be diagnosed as having fibromyalgia) that when pressed firmly cause the patient to flinch.”
Judge Posner also noted that the Administrative Law Judge in Sarchet exhibited a “pervasive misunderstanding of the disease” by “depreciate[ing] the gravity of Sarchet’s fibromyalgia because of the lack of any evidence of objectively discernible symptoms, such as swelling of the joints.”
Some 11 years after the decision in Sarchet Administrative Law Judges still look, for “objective” signs and symptoms when confronted with a disability claimant who has fibromyaliga. Failing to find the requisite abnormalilties in tests, the claimant’s disability clam is denied. It is very important to help educate the Administrative Law Judge both before and during the hearing about the nature of fibromyaliga and the current state of the law.

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