On April 6, internationally known fibromyalgia expert Jon Russell, M.D., Ph.D., ACR Master, will present a free talk at his alma mater, Union College. After dedicating his academic life to studying this often-maligned disorder, Russell hopes to help audiences better understand fibromyalgia and how to cope with a life-altering condition that, in the past, many had to bear with no relief.
Russell first became interested in the topic after examining fibromyalgia patients during his rheumatology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “I was convinced they were telling us the truth about their symptoms, but many of my colleagues did not consider the patients’ condition to be real,” Russell said. “I’m naturally a supporter of the underdog, so I felt a responsibility to try to help.”
He has studied fibromyalgia for more than 30 years in an effort to support the sufferers who, when he started, had virtually no voice in the medical community. He finds that even today, many people, especially outside medicine, believe the disorder simply to be widespread pain or a catchall when doctors can’t make a diagnosis. But he contends that fibromyalgia patients suffer from consistent and specific symptoms and for which documented biochemical changes confirm that the disorder is real.
Fibromyalgia is a physical disorder
“A common misconception is that fibromyalgia is just about pain,” Russell said. “It is a painful condition, but people with fibromyalgia are very troubled by cognitive dysfunction. They don’t feel like they can remember things. If you do a cognitive assessment of a person with fibromyalgia, the results are consistent with someone much older. That would suggest that fibromyalgia is a condition of premature ageing. ” Sufferers also experience fatigue, chronic headaches, chest and neck pain, irritable bowl and bladder and often, such severe sleeping dysfunction that they are not able to replenish vitally needed energy.
Russell’s own research has shown that symptoms stem from something more than imagination. “We have many pieces of information—including spinal fluid studies and images of the brain showing altered function—all of which support the concept that fibromyalgia is a real, physical, organic disorder,” he explained.
How widespread is it?
In a town the size of Lincoln, Russell believes that as many as 5,000 people could suffer from fibromyalgia. “Based on a study in Wichita, Kan., ten percent of the general population has chronic widespread pain,” he explained. “Twenty percent of this number [2% of the general population] suffers from fibromyalgia—a unique variety of widespread pain.”
Fibromyalgia is most likely to strike women during or after their childbearing years and then does not resolve. “Ten percent of women in their fifties and sixties suffer from fibromyalgia,” Russell said. “And more than seven in ten cases are female.”
Is there treatment?
Although fibromyalgia is treatable, it is not yet curable. Russell has seen promising results from a variety of treatments. Using a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, “we have seen patients who are dramatically improved,” he said.
Russell believes physicians are now under pressure to take fibromyalgia more seriously. “But they have many disorders to care for,” he explained. “Their training and continuing education did not prepare them for treating fibromyalgia.” But because there are now medications approved by the FDA for treatment of fibromyalgia, “pharmaceutical companies are helping with the effort to educate physicians about fibromyalgia and how to use the new medications most effectively.”
About Dr. Russell
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Union College, Russell earned master’s and doctoral degrees in Biochemistry and Nutrition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before graduating from Loma Linda University School of Medicine.
He completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in rheumatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and later became a tenured Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and director of the University Clinical Research Center. During his academic career, he has written over 40 chapters in textbooks, nearly 100 research reports in scientific medical journals, nearly 150 abstracts for medical meetings, and 89 editorials in medical journals. He is listed in The Best Doctors in America, The Best Doctors in the South West, The Best Doctors in America: Central Region, The Best 2000 Doctors in America, Who's Who in the South and Southwest, Guide to America’s Top Physicians, and Patients’ Choice Award. In 2009, he was named “Master Rheumatologist” by the American College of Rheumatology.
Last fall, Russell retired after 32 years as a full-time faculty member, and now travels the world giving presentations about fibromyalgia and musculoskeletal pain, in addition to serving as editor of The Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain, a position he has held since the journal’s inception 18 years ago; as senior editor at Taylor and Francis Press in London; and director of Fibromyalgia Research and Consulting in San Antonio. He was the founding president of the MYOPAIN Society and continues to service as a board member.
Dr. Russell’s presentation will take place on Wednesday, April 6, at 7:00 p.m. in the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church on the campus of Union College. The talk is free and open to the public—no registration required.