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Salon says your pain is imaginary

Saturday 18 July 2009

BackThe Feministe blog has a scathing review of an article that appeared in the online magazine, Salon.

Here's an excerpt of the review:

Salon recently decided to publish an article called “Big Pharma Says Your Mysterious Pain is Real.” It’s about fibromyalgia, and the growing acceptance among doctors that those who have it aren’t making the whole thing up. Seemingly, according to the writer, that’s a bad thing. And while the article makes a halfhearted attempt at portraying itself as an attack on Big Pharma, it really only takes a few sentences to realize, as already feared and expected, that it’s actually an attack on individuals living with fibromyalgia.

In the second paragraph, Robert Burton writes this, for example:

I can tolerate Pfizer’s endless ads for Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering drug, because the ad is doing a public service. High cholesterol is a serious health problem. But watching the kindly middle-age actress interrupt the evening news to tell me that “my fibromyalgia is real” raises serious medical issues and underscores the ruthless drive of Big Pharma.

Because you know what’s not a serious health problem? Debilitating pain and fatigue that often can’t be alleviated with the help of pain medication. As someone who does not have that health condition, he should know. Also, how dare we tell the large scores of people, predominantly women, who have this very condition that they’re not just making it all up? After all, admitting that they’re not making it all up forces people like Robert Burton to feel a little less superior.

Then, we get this:

Let’s begin with a closer look at fibromyalgia itself. Despite strong convictions on all sides, nobody knows whether fibromyalgia is a primary medical condition, part of a larger constellation of other ill-defined conditions, such as chronic fatigue or irritable bowel syndrome, or a label given to a variety of physical complaints that arise out of various mental states, such as anxiety and depression. There haven’t been any reproducible and clear-cut objective findings, such as blood and lab tests, X-rays or anatomical abnormalities on biopsy, to provide a satisfactory understanding of the disease. Even the 1990 American College of Rheumatology diagnostic criteria — widespread muscle pain of more than three months, unassociated with other known illnesses, and the presence of at least 11 tender points over 18 muscle groups — are nothing more than subjective patient descriptions.

Wasn’t it really not so long ago that lots of people were convinced that both chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome were all made up, too? In fact, I’m pretty sure that there are lots of people who think that people like me who have depression and anxiety are also just being a bunch of big fat whiners. But at some point, science apparently determined that people with all of these conditions weren’t outrageously delusional and didn’t deserve the scorn heaped on them. With fibromyalgia patients, however, we apparently just don’t have enough evidence to treat them like people.

The Feministe post prompted a huge amount of responses in its comments section.

You can read the review (and comments) here.



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