What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by mood, memory and fatigue, sleep problems. Researchers believe that painful sensations are amplified by fibromyalgia by changing the way pain signals are processed by your brain.
Symptoms occasionally start after a physical injury, surgery, infection or considerable emotional stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually pile up over time with no single activating event.
Girls are much more prone than guys are to develop fibromyalgia. Lots of people who have fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, stress, and melancholy.
While there is no treatment for fibromyalgia, many different medications can help control symptoms. Exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction measures also may help.
Fibromyalgia can be tough to pin down. No test can confirm that a person has fibromyalgia, and the usual symptoms of widespread pain and severe fatigue can be mistaken for something else.
Doctors don’t understand what causes fibromyalgia, but it most likely includes a number of factors working together. These may comprise:
There may be particular genetic mutations that will make you more susceptible to developing the illness because fibromyalgia has a tendency to run in families.
Some illnesses appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia.
Physical or mental trauma
Post-traumatic stress disorder has been linked to fibromyalgia.
How Can You Tell if You Have Fibromyalgia?
Your doctor will ask about your pain symptoms and then press on a series of anatomically-defined soft tissue body sites called “tender points.” There are 18 tender points on the body that will usually be highly sensitive to pressure in people with fibromyalgia as specified by the American College of Rheumatology criteria. People who do not have fibromyalgia are much less tender to pressure applied at these points.
If you think you have fibromyalgia, it’s worth taking action to find out for sure. While there is no single medication for fibromyalgia, there are a number of treatments that can ease the symptoms and improve daily life.
A fibromyalgia diagnosis often requires some detective work from you and the doctor. Here’s where to start:
Know the symptoms
Keep an eye out for the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia:
People with fibromyalgia have a number of small areas around the body called tender points. Mild pressure applied to any of these points is painful.
Disrupted sleep is common, and can lead to extreme grogginess and cognitive problems, sometimes called “fibro fog.”
Dizziness, anxiety and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems are other signs.
Hypersensitivity to sounds, light, and certain foods may also occur.
Symptoms can disappear for days, weeks, or months, only to reappear as mysteriously as they left.
Get the care you need
Getting a diagnosis may take a while. Your doctor may give you a blood test to be sure you don’t have celiac disease or low thyroid (hypothyroidism). A rheumatologist, internist, neurologist, chiropractor, or primary care doctor can diagnose and treat fibromyalgia. If you aren’t comfortable working with your primary care doctor, ask friends, family members, and other doctors for suggestions. Be sure to ask how many fibromyalgia patients the doctor sees, so you’ll find someone well versed in the multiple treatments typical for people with fibromyalgia.
With the array of symptoms occurring in fibromyalgia, it can be hard to remember exactly when a symptom occurred and what may have triggered a flare-up. Patterns you never noticed before can be obvious when you track your activities, food, and symptoms on your phone or in a notepad. Symptoms triggered by meals could be the first indication that your symptoms are due to celiac disease (an inability of the body to handle gluten) or a gluten sensitivity, for instance.
Be ready for questions
To make the most of your time with the doctor, think about these questions in advance:
- How would you describe your pain? People often describe the pain as a dull ache, a sharp pain, or a burning pain.
- Does anything make your symptoms worse? This could be an activity, a food you ate, or something in your environment, such as noise from nearby construction.
- How long have you been experiencing these symptoms? Symptoms may come and go, so be ready to tell the doctor about the first occurrence.
- Does exercise make you feel better or worse? Let the doctor know how exercise affects you. People with fibromyalgia sometimes feel much worse the day after exercising.
How Fibromyalgia Treated?
Treatment of fibromyalgia requires a comprehensive approach. The first step is a positive diagnosis, which can be difficult because many of the symptoms mimic those of other diseases. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has developed criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia that physicians can use. According to ACR criteria, a person is considered to have fibromyalgia if he or she has widespread pain for at least 3 months in combination with tenderness in at least 11 to 18 specific tender point sites.
With this criteria, a comprehensive treatment approach can be taken that includes a physician, physical therapist, and others in the medical support system. Patients should also take an active roll in their treatment. Combined, all elements play an active roll in the management of fibromyalgia.
Studies have shown that mild aerobic exercise, such as walking and swimming, improves muscle fitness and reduces muscle pain and tenderness. However, this subject is one of debate. While doctors feel that exercise is important in the treatment of fibromyalgia, many patients claim it is too painful to exercise or if they do, they notice no great improvement in their symptoms. Other patients agree with the doctors and say that exercise has greatly decreased their pain. Robert Bennett, M.D., noted expert in the diagnosis and treatment of fibromyalgia and on staff at the Department of Medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University states “Treatments for fibromyalgia are not long-term. Current philosophy to manage the pain and fatigue that are symptomatic of the ailment involves a multi-model approach.” Dr. Bennett’s approach includes:
- Therapeutic treatment of pain.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Exercise and stretching programs.
- Treatment of accompanying psychological problems that arise as an adjunct to the syndrome “Optimal treatment of FM should include non-pharmacological interventions, specifically exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy, in addition to appropriate medication management as needed for sleep and pain symptoms,” says Lynn A. Rossy, MA, head of a study being conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
In addition, researchers are constantly testing new painkillers to determine their usefulness in treating fibromyalgia pain.
One such drug being tested in Europe is Tropisetron, which adjusts serotonin levels and substance P, a peptide found in the brain that plays a role in nervous and immune systems. Others include the fentanyl patch (sold under the name Duragesic), OxyContin®, an opioid for the treatment of persistent moderate to severe pain, and a variety of herbal remedies.