by Jill Stein

Last Updated: 2008-06-16 17:38:57 -0400 (Reuters Health)

PARIS (Reuters Health) – Patients with symptoms suggestive of fibromyalgia generally wait from 5 months to 1.5 years (depending on the country) to make an appointment with their physician, according to the results of a survey released here to coincide with the European Union League Against Rheumatism Congress (EULAR) 2008.

What’s more, once patients have consulted a physician, it can take an average of 1.9 to 2.7 years and between two and four physicians to provide an accurate diagnosis.

The results are from responses to interviews conducted with 800 patients with confirmed fibromyalgia and 1,622 physicians in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Mexico, and South Korea. In each country, 100 patients with a confirmed diagnosis of fibromyalgia, about 100 primary care physicians, and about 100 specialists (25 rheumatologists, 25 neurologists, 25 pain specialists, and 25 psychiatrists) were interviewed. The survey was developed by the European Network of Fibromyalgia Associations in partnership with Pfizer.

When queried about why they had waited at least 4 weeks after symptom onset to see a physician, at least 65% of patients responded that they thought their symptoms were self-limiting and at least 51% said they thought they could manage their symptoms on their own.

At least 50% of primary care physicians across all countries and at least 40% of all specialists in all countries, except for South Korea, said that fibromyalgia was "very" or "somewhat" difficult to diagnose.

Results also revealed a lack of confidence among physicians in establishing a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. For example, between 16% (Mexico) and 71% (South Korea) of all physicians who completed the survey maintained that they are "not very" or "not at all" confident in recognizing fibromyalgia symptoms. Likewise, between 25% (Mexico) and 73% (South Korea) said that they were "not very" or "not at all" confident about being able to differentiate symptoms of fibromyalgia from other conditions.

Between 45% (South Korea) and 81% (the Netherlands) of primary care doctors claimed that fibromyalgia was frequently or almost always misdiagnosed. Percentages were similar among specialists.

"The results are disappointing because they identify significant deficits in physician education on the diagnosis of fibromyalgia," Ernest Choy, MD, a rheumatologist at GKT School of Medicine at King’s College in London, UK, said. "Patients are already slow to seek a consultation with a physician, and a lack of physician training in the recognition of fibromyalgia aggravates the delay in making the diagnosis and starting treatment."

According to the European Network of Fibromyalgia Associations, fibromyalgia affects from 16 to 40 million people worldwide.

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