Fibromyalgia is a widespread chronic pain condition that affects an estimated five million people in the U.S. Today is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, and we think it’s a great time to dispel some of the common misconceptions about this debilitating, painful condition. Here are seven damaging misconceptions about fibromyalgia.

7 damaging misconceptions about fibromyalgia

Misconception #1: Fibromyalgia is all in your head

This is perhaps the most damaging misconceptions about fibromyalgia. Because fibromyalgia is an invisible illness with no discernible cause, it can be easy to dismiss fibromyalgia sufferers and their reports of pain. Many people can’t believe that someone who looks healthy could actually be in debilitating pain.

Fibro fact: The pain is real

Fibromyalgia changes the way the brain processes pain signals, sending pain-receiving neurons into overdrive at the slightest stimulation. The changes that occur in the brain are measureable. Pain points can be located in specific areas on the body, or the patient may experience widespread pain. Many fibromyalgia patients try to remain stoic and work through the pain, but during painful flare-ups, pain can be debilitating and make the tasks of daily life impossible.

Misconception #2: Only women develop fibromyalgia

Between 75 and 90% of diagnosed fibromyalgia sufferers are women between the ages of 20 and 50. Women do have a much higher risk of developing fibromyalgia, possibly due in part to the role that hormones play in fibromyalgia.

Fibro fact: Men have fibromyalgia, too

While women do have a much higher rate of diagnosis than men, men are also susceptible to developing fibromyalgia. That they are diagnosed at a much lower rate may have to do with actual incidence of fibromyalgia, but there may also be cultural factors at play. Men are much less likely to report pain due to the perception in the U.S. that pain is a sign of weakness. In reality, there may be many more men in the U.S with undiagnosed fibromyalgia.

Misconception #3: Diet can heal fibromyalgia

Many people credit the wonders of the gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free diets for their successful treatment of fibromyalgia, but there is very little scientifically valid research that indicates that diet alone can cure fibromyalgia.

Fibro fact: Diet may help with some symptoms

It is true that everyone’s biology is a bit different when it comes to food. Gluten, sugar, and dairy products are all highly inflammatory and may contribute to painful flare-ups. While there is no known cure for fibromyalgia, keeping track of pain symptoms and food concurrently can give you an idea of which foods seem to trigger more pain. A poor diet may contribute to obesity or other health conditions that can exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms as well.

Misconception #4: Fibromyalgia isn’t a real disease

This misconception has a grain of truth. Diseases have specific and traceable causes. Since fibromyalgia does not have a set of causes that lead to diagnosis, it is not technically a disease.

Fibro fact: Fibromyalgia is a disorder

Also known as a syndrome, fibromyalgia is classified as a disorder because it is a collection of symptoms that occur together. The most prominent symptom is pain, but there are over 200 other symptoms that include gastrointestinal issues and mood disorders. Just because it is not considered a disease with a traceable cause doesn’t mean fibromyalgia is any less serious.