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Fibromyalgia is invisible disability for college students

Lana Bandoim's picture
Fibromyalgia and college study

Emily Thornton is a college student who has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and she recently shared her experience with the disease. Thornton’s invisible disability has created additional challenges for her at school. Her struggles reveal that colleges are still learning to accommodate students who have disabilities that are not clearly visible on the surface.


Emily Thornton discovered that she had fibromyalgia at the age of 20, and the condition affected her time in college. Thornton attended the Fordham University-Lincoln Center in New York City, but her health made balancing school and life difficult. She suffered from joint pain and fatigue, so she found it difficult to attend classes. In addition, as a theater major, she had issues with finding enough energy for rehearsals.

“Not only does fibromyalgia cause your school work to suffer, but your social life suffers as well. I was a young, ambitious, 20-something girl in Manhattan and couldn’t do half the things I wanted to, because of the lack of energy caused by constant pain,” Thornton said.

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Emily Thornton is not the only college student struggling with an invisible disability while at school. George Rosett also has fibromyalgia and explains that doctors failed to find a medication to help relieve the pain and fatigue. College administrators face the difficult issue of accommodating students with fibromyalgia and finding a way to make their college experience easier.

Thornton points out that she wanted her school to understand the disease and to help her find a way to balance the academic obligations with her condition. Colleges can help students by giving them more time for certain activities or providing them with better chairs. Students with fibromyalgia are sometimes forced to miss classes and exams because of the fatigue, muscle pain, aches and other symptoms of the condition. Colleges can help accommodate these students by offering them the chance to take the exams at a later time.

Read more about fibromyalgia:
Memantine drug shows promise for fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia study focuses on brain stimulation to fight pain