Why Getting a Diagnosis Matters

By Crystal Lindell, PNN Columnist

For me, finding out I had a genetic condition with no cure was, strangely, liberating. 

When I walked out of the doctor’s office, I went to lunch at Chipotle with my mom to celebrate. We splurged for the guac. 

No, I wasn’t ever going to get better — but at least I wasn’t crazy. 

It took about five years of debilitating chronic pain in my ribs, two trips to the Mayo Clinic, appointments at three different university hospitals, and countless specialists before I was finally diagnosed with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) in March 2018. 

And you know how it happened? It wasn’t some magical doctor who finally figured it out all out. No. It was my readers. A few of them emailed me suggesting I check into it, so I asked my doctor about it. He referred me to a pain specialist who diagnosed me within a month. 

I’m not going to pretend that finding out I had hEDS was all just a pile of happy pills though. I went through an extremely rough month of depression and grief as I worked to grapple with everything that came with that life-long diagnosis. There’s no cure. My body will probably just get worse over the years. And having children would be extremely risky. 


It was a loss, for sure, but it also was a gain in so many ways to finally know what I was fighting — and for others to know as well. It felt like it went from, “She’s making it all up and probably just wants pain meds,” to “She’s here legitimately,” in my medical chart. That alone was life changing. 

And based on the Facebook and Reddit patient groups I follow, I’m not alone in any of this. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people seem to post about their search for a diagnosis, and the validation they feel once they’ve gotten it. 

Knowing your enemy’s name makes it much easier to do battle. 

And yet, doctors seem to be so far behind on this. 

Here are some common myths I’ve heard both from my own doctors, and via patient stories. 

Myth: A diagnosis won’t change how the symptoms are treated. 

Fact: This simply isn’t true. For me, hEDS means I can react differently to medications and treatments. For example, I should avoid chiropractors and only see specially trained physical therapists, because if I don't, I could be seriously injured. Not to mention the fact that it also means I have additional risks that can be regularly tested for, such as issues with my heart. And the risks related to surgery also change. Be skeptical anytime someone tries to tell you that more information is a bad thing.  

Myth: A diagnosis will increase insurance rates. 

Fact: The U.S. requires insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions now, so this simply isn’t true. 

Myth: Seeking a diagnosis means you just want to spend your days blaming everything on your condition. 

Fact: Trust me, nobody “wants” to blame everything on a genetic condition. But if a genetic condition is to blame, then it’s not crazy to connect the dots. A diagnosis also helps you see dots you didn’t even know where there.

Myth: A diagnosis doesn’t change anything.

Fact:  A diagnosis does so much more than get noted in your medical history. It also can help you apply for programs like Social Security Disability and medical marijuana cards. And maybe even more importantly, it can help you explain yourself to friends, colleagues and family.

When you show up late for a meeting because “your ribs hurt,” people give you the side-eye and then leap into a diatribe about how their back hurts sometimes and they still manage to get there on time. But if you show up late and explain that you have a rare disease called EDS, they usually rush to offer sympathy and understanding. 

So what do doctors mean when they try to tell you that a diagnosis doesn’t matter? They mean, it doesn’t matter to them. It’s similar to when they say a surgery is going to be easy, they mean it’s going to be easy for them.

But we aren’t living for them. We’re living for us. So keep fighting the good fight. Keep insisting that you get the right diagnosis. And know thy enemy.


Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She eats too much Taco Bell, drinks too much espresso, and spends too much time looking for the perfect pink lipstick. She has hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

An Open Letter to All the Doctors Who Missed My EDS

By Crystal Lindell, Columnist

I hate you. I actually hate you.

Well, maybe not all of you.

But most of you, yes I hate. Actually, hate is too nice word. I detest you. I loathe you. I have venom in my heart for you. I hope your favorite show gets cancelled after a cliff hanger. I hope your air conditioner breaks in your car in July. I hope your crush never likes any of your Instagram photos. I hope every single time you go through the Taco Bell drive thru, they mess up your order. And I hope your phone screen cracks, your laptop crashes and you lose everything you ever saved.

I was recently diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos syndrome (hEDS), a connective tissue disorder that not only explains why my ribs always feel broken, but also why I’m always covered in unexplained bruises, why I sprain my ankles too often, why my vision changed for no reason, why my skin is baby soft, and why I crave salt.

And so many doctors missed it. And I can’t get it out of my head.

Like the doctor at Loyola who told me to stop coming to see him because there was nothing else he could do about my pain.

And the other doctor at Loyola who looked right at me while I was sitting on the exam table in just a paper-thin gown and said, “Well there are two options. You either woke up with a completely unexplainable pain, or you’re a great actress.”

I was so caught off guard that I didn’t even realize he was accusing me of trying to get drugs for like a full 30 seconds.

I also hate literally every single doctor at the Mayo Clinic that missed this crap. You know how easy it is to do an initial test for hEDS?

Doctor: "Can you bend your thumb to your wrist?"

Patient: "Yes."

Doctor: "Yeah, you probably have it. Let’s do a full evaluation."



The Mayo Clinic missed it because they were obsessed with me going to their rehab clinic and getting off opioids, despite the fact that it wasn’t covered by my insurance and that they required a $35,000 upfront payment.

So yes, I hate all of you.

I also hate every single chiropractor I ever saw. Seriously, all you guys do is see people in pain, and it never crosses your mind to evaluate for EDS? Why are you not asking every single patient who walks through your doors if they can touch their thumb to their wrist? What is wrong with you?

Not to mention the fact that chiropractors have to be super careful with EDS patients, if they treat them at all, because things can dislocate and all that. It’s irresponsible of you not to be evaluating every single patient for EDS.

I also hate the pain specialist who berated me for not wanting a spinal cord stimulator. If he had evaluated me for EDS, he would have known that a spinal cord stimulator would have probably been a horrible idea for me. Like chiropractors, all pain specialists do is see people in pain. They should be evaluating every single patient they see for EDS too! 

The whole thing is so infuriating and frustrating. I sincerely wish I could go back to every single doctor I have seen over the last five years and personally tell all of them how much I hate them. And then I wish I could tell all of them to freaking check people for EDS. But I can’t do that. All I can do is write this letter and then try to move forward with my new life and my new diagnosis.

But if you’re a pain patient and you can touch your thumb to your wrist, get checked for EDS. Seriously.

And if you’re a doctor, do better.


Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She eats too much Taco Bell, drinks too much espresso, and spends too much time looking for the perfect pink lipstick. She has hypermobile EDS. 

Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Diagnosing Fibromyalgia Can Be Long, Difficult Process

By Lana Barhum

Because of newer, comprehensive methods for treating fibromyalgia, including lifestyle approaches and medication, the prognosis for fibromyalgia patients is slowly improving.  But first a doctor needs to make an accurate diagnosis, which isn’t easy. 

On average, it takes 2 to 3 years to get a diagnosis, and research shows that people with fibromyalgia typically see many doctors before getting one.  Even with a doctor who is knowledgeable about fibromyalgia, it still takes time.

While much research has been devoted to fibromyalgia, a syndrome defined by debilitating widespread muscle pain, cognitive impairment, lack of restorative sleep and extreme fatigue, it is still contested by some in the medical community.  Moreover, there remains considerable disagreement about fibromyalgia's cause, whether it is psychological or physical, and how to treat it. 

That lack of conformity is unfair to the millions living with the real pain and sickness fibromyalgia brings in its wake. Fibromyalgia takes a toll on mental and physical health, relationships and quality of life.

“People with fibromyalgia suffer from severe, daily pain that is widespread throughout the body,” says Dr. Leslie J. Crofford, an NIH-supported researcher at Vanderbilt University. “Their pain is typically accompanied by debilitating fatigue, sleep that does not refresh them, and problems with thinking and memory.”

Why Does a Diagnosis Take So Long?

The one thing the medical community does agree on, is that fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose. But why does it take so long?  Here are some possible explanations. 

Fibromyalgia is not considered a disease.  It is a syndrome, which means a cluster of signs and symptoms that occur together, and create an abnormality or condition. 

Fibromyalgia symptoms often don’t make much sense.  Sleep issues, extreme fatigue, anxiety, headaches, widespread pain and so much more could be attributed to any number of health conditions or bad habits, such as insomnia, stress, not drinking enough water, or smoking.  Additionally, symptoms vary from person-to-person and their severity is constantly changing. 

There are also no universally accepted labs or diagnostic tests for fibromyalgia, so doctors must rely on symptoms to make a diagnosis. Physicians also have to make sure the symptoms are not caused by another health condition.

Criteria for Diagnosing Fibromyalgia

In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology’s (ACR) diagnostic criteria involved physical examination of specific tender points on the bodies of fibromyalgia patients. If patients had at least 11 or 18 tender points, they were given a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.  It was the only method available at the time for diagnosing fibromyalgia, but studies would later point out the limitations of this method.   

The 2010 ACR diagnostic criteria, updated in 2011, utilizes a widespread pain index criteria and a symptom severity score.  In 2016, researchers updated the criteria yet again, reporting their revisions at the ACR's annual meeting in September. 

They determined that a doctor who is knowledgeable about fibromyalgia can make a diagnosis based on symptoms that include widespread pain lasting more than 3 months, as well as other symptoms, such as debilitating fatigue.  Moreover, the doctor must consider the number of areas on the body where the patient has had pain over the past few days and the severity. Lastly, he or she must rule out other potential causes of the patient's pain and symptoms.

It wasn’t until late 2015 that fibromyalgia was finally recognized as an official diagnosis and given a new ICD-10 code (10th revision to International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, a medical classification list by the World Health Organization). This came as a result of many medical advances over the last decade in understanding and acknowledging fibromyalgia.  

Regardless of how far we have come in research and awareness, until there are conventional methods for testing fibromyalgia, it will continue to remain a diagnosis of exclusion.   Doctors will continue to rely on a description of symptoms and pain from patients, which can be difficult to articulate for most people. 

Patients' Responsibility

In late 2008, I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia based on the 1990 criteria.  I know firsthand that living with a cluster of deliberating symptoms and unexplained pain can be frustrating. 

I don’t recall the exact date I was diagnosed, the onset of my symptoms, or what triggered my illness.  What I do recall is that for ten very long years, I visited countless doctors as my pain worsened and the list of symptoms continued to grow.  I would inform doctors I was hurting and extremely exhausted. Some mornings, I couldn’t even get out of bed.  Some treated my symptoms as psychosomatic and others tried treating my physical symptoms. And of course, there were the ones who viewed me as drug-seeking.

Despite my difficult and frustrating experiences, I took responsibility for my health and finding answers.  All I ever wanted during that ten year period was to be believed, but it took a lot of physical and emotional pain to get that.

I know anyone struggling to find answers feels the pain and sentiment in my saying that a diagnosis finally gave me my life back.  It truly did, and even though finding successful treatments has proved challenging, having an actual diagnosis has made life a whole lot easier.

Medicine has come a long ways in diagnosing fibromyalgia, but doctors still need to rely on descriptions of symptoms and pain from patients, which is challenging.   As a patient, it's up to you to keep track of all your symptoms.  Write them down. Note what causes them or worsens them or decreases their intensity.  Most importantly, be aware of how symptoms and pain affect your life.  This will assist your doctor in determining what is wrong and how best to treat it.  

Remember to trust your instincts, stand up for yourself, keep looking for answers and don’t be deterred. 

Lana Barhum lives and works in northeast Ohio. She is a freelance medical writer, patient advocate, legal assistant and mother.

Having lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008, Lana uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness. She has written for several online health communities, including Alliance Health, Upwell, Mango Health, and The Mighty.

To learn more about Lana, visit her website.