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CAN A CAR ACCIDENT CAUSE FIBROMYALGIA?

You've probably seen the ads recently on television discussing medications used to treat fibromyalgia. Public awareness of the disease has increased over the last decade. Initially regarded as a "garbage can" diagnosis, the medical community has begun to recognize it not only as a real disease, but one with often devastating consequences. Additionally, much debate has now centered on whether fibromyalgia can be caused by the trauma sustained in a car accident. What is fibromyalgia? Can injuries sustained in a car accident cause or aggravate the condition? Can the trauma involved in a car accident "flip the switch" for someone who is predisposed to developing fibromyalgia, but was asymptomatic prior to the car accident?

I recently litigated and settled a case at mediation where a car accident caused the onset of fibromyalgia in a middle-aged female. She initially complained of an injury to her neck as a result of the car accident, but began to develop symptoms of fibromyalgia within a few months afterwards. Not surprisingly, the insurance company hired experts who claimed the woman was faking or exaggerating her symptoms for some financial or emotional benefit. That is a typical defense in a case where the alleged injury is a chronic pain syndrome such as fibromyalgia or complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Fortunately, after many depositions and a vigorous battle, the case settled at mediation for $595,000. This was the largest settlement for a fibromyalgia case ever reported outside of Cook County.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain. While there are many symptoms that have been affiliated with the disease, the classical symptoms aside from pain include: severe and chronic fatigue, sleep deprivation, memory loss, depression, and restless leg syndrome. Although a disease which predominantly affects women, men can and do acquire the disorder.

People with fibromyalgia are often described as having increased sensitivity to pain. For a person who reports pain that is 3 out of 10 on a 10 scale, the person with fibromyalgia may experience pain that rates at an 8 or higher. Indeed, persons who suffer from fibromyalgia have increased sensitivity to all sensory inputs. For example, what one may perceive as a strong odor can overwhelm someone with fibromyalgia.

There is no easily administered diagnostic test which can confirm or rule out a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. As a result, people with fibromyalgia often encounter persons unsympathetic to their plight because they do not understand what causes their pain. Thus, the disease damages not only the body, but also the psyche.

Can a Car Accident cause Fibromyalgia?

Now that the diagnosis of fibromyalgia has gained acceptance in the medical community, the new controversial question has to do with what causes the disorder. Specifically, one of the leading questions currently surrounding the disorder is whether a car accident can cause a person to develop fibromyalgia? While many doctors and reputable organizations (i.e. Mayo Clinic) agree that it can, insurance companies and defense firms have spent significant money and resources trying to prove the opposite conclusion.

Of significance for fibromyalgia patients was one study conducted in 2002 which revealed a significant association between fibromyalgia and physical trauma (i.e. car accident) sustained in the 6 months before the onset of fibromyalgia symptoms. Another study found that a person who sustained a neck injury in an accident was 13 times more likely to develop fibromyalgia than a person who sustained a lower extremity injury. Remember the case that was discussed in the beginning of this article? The woman's initial injury was to her neck.

What often gets confusing is when the discussion turns to whether a car accident caused fibromyalgia versus whether it made the disease symptomatic. Fortunately for people in Illinois, the distinction does not matter. As long as the trauma from a car accident is a cause in the development of fibromyalgia, an injured person is entitled to damages for relating to the condition which resulted from the car accident. This is significant because people affected by fibromyalgia often undergo many years of treatment and are often confronted with substantial medical bills.

If you were involved in a car accident and developed the onset of a chronic pain syndrome such as fibromyalgia, you may be overlooking an obvious cause of your symptoms. Contact a personal injury attorney for a free consultation to determine if you have any legal right to be compensated for your injuries. Not only is it important to obtain treatment from doctors who specialize in fibromyalgia and other pain syndromes such as complex regional pain syndrome, but also to hire a lawyer who specializes in this unique area of the law.

How do you feel about fibromyalgia gaining general acceptance as a legitimate condition in the medical community? Have you or anyone you know been diagnosed with fibromyalgia? How do people react to your diagnosis? Your questions and comments are welcome.

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