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I recently cared for a hairdresser who had gone through a year of vague and varied symptoms. What started as a few unpleasant aches soon became debilitating pain throughout her body. A heavy fatigue settled into her bones: Holding scissors or sweeping the floor became too much. She slept fitfully; her memory flagged. Frustrated by many symptoms and few answers, she grew anxious and depressed.

Our medical team, after a battery of unrevealing tests, settled on a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Tears welled in her eyes as I explained the diagnosis, and I worried I’d been too brusque. But these were tears of relief, she said, not because the symptoms had ceased, but because she finally had an answer, a name for her pain.

Those who suffer without a clear understanding of its cause experience a unique form of torment. There is great power in diagnosis: It can be comforting, terrifying, and sometimes, even healing.

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