The pain of fibromyalgia is difficult for sufferers to live with as the aches and pains of this chronic condition often affect their quality of life. Nearly five million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, which causes widespread pain in their muscles and joints, curtails activities and often causes depression that exacerbates their condition.
While a general practitioner may suspect fibromyalgia when a patient complains of widespread pain and fatigue, they will usually refer their patient to a specialist to confirm their suspicions. Many patients see a rheumatologist to treat fibromyalgia, because a rheumatologist treats arthritis, autoimmune diseases, disc diseases and pain disorders.
What are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
Along with widespread pain in the body’s joints, fibromyalgia can also cause sufferers to feel extremely fatigued, which is often compounded because this condition causes sleep disturbances that prevents sufferers from getting deep, restful sleep. Depression is also a common problem for those who have fibromyalgia.
Along with these symptoms, some sufferers may also experience:
- Chronic headaches
- Hypersensitivity to heat or cold
- Tender points that are painful to the touch
- Numbness or tingling in the fingers and feet
- An inability to concentrate
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Other specialists can treat fibromyalgia as well due to the variety of symptoms it causes. For instance, a patient may see a psychologist or psychiatrist to treat their depression.
The Difficulties of Diagnosing Fibromyalgia
This medical condition can be very difficult to diagnose because it can mimic other conditions. Pain in the joints could be mistaken for arthritis or, when coupled with extreme fatigue, it can lead doctors to diagnose other conditions such as lupus. Not only can fibromyalgia be difficult to diagnose, but it is also difficult to treat patients with this health condition. Researchers have tried to find out what causes fibromyalgia, but as of yet, no root cause has been found.
Some of the difficulty of diagnosing this condition is because fibromyalgia can have different symptoms for different patients. While one patient may have problems with other medical problems that can complicate their treatment, other patients may only have minor symptoms with few, if any, additional medical issues. However, medical professionals have developed specific criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia.
Criteria for a Fibromyalgia Diagnosis
This condition is difficult for doctors, even specialists, to diagnose because of the various symptoms that are associated with it. However, one of the main criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia is the widespread pain that patients experience. If a patient experiences pain in all four quadrants of their body for at least three months and has tenderness or pain when pressure is applied in at least 11 of the 18 tender points of the body, then a fibromyalgia diagnosis can be made. To confirm the diagnosis, specialists will do other follow-up tests.
Finding the Best Specialist to Treat Fibromyalgia
Even though a primary care doctor can help treat someone with fibromyalgia, a specialist is often better equipped to treat the various symptoms caused by this condition. Some patients may be referred to a neurologist for treatment as new studies have linked fibromyalgia to more blood flow in the areas of the brain responsible for controlling pain. It has also been linked to unusual amounts of neurotransmitters in the brain.
For patients who have symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome or incontinence, they may also see a urologist or a gastrointestinal specialist to treat those issues. In addition, it may be necessary for a patient to see a physical therapist to help them learn how to cope with the muscle and joint stiffness they experience. A physical therapist can help them learn exercises to relieve stiffness in their muscles and joints to help make moving around easier.
A fibromyalgia sufferer may see more than one type of specialist to help them cope with their fibromyalgia symptoms so they can resume their daily activities. Even alternative treatments like acupuncture, hypnosis or massage therapy may be able to help reduce a patient’s muscle and joint pain. A patient should explore all the avenues they can in order to help reduce their symptoms and to try to resume their normal level of activity.
To help find the best specialist to treat your condition, you need to do some research to find those doctors who are familiar with fibromyalgia and have experience in treating it.
Types of Specialists Who Treat Fibromyalgia
People who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia may end up seeing several specialists depending on their symptoms, treatment preferences and any other medical problems that they may have. These are some of the specialists from which they may seek treatment.
Most primary care doctors will refer a patient to a rheumatologist if they suspect a condition like fibromyalgia. Rheumatologists specialize in diseases and conditions that affect the muscles, joints and their connective tissues. The most common conditions they treat include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
The rheumatologist will do the initial work-up and examination in order to diagnose your condition. If they do diagnose it as fibromyalgia, they will do follow-up tests and design a treatment plan to help with your symptoms. They will continue to monitor you to see how well the treatment plan is working and, if necessary, refer you to another specialist to help treat your symptoms.
As more studies show a connection to the brain and fibromyalgia, more patients are being referred to neurologists rather than rheumatologists. A growing body of evidence is pointing toward the conclusion that fibromyalgia is a neurologic disorder. A neurologist may conduct tests that include an MRI of the brain, tests involving heat and cold stimuli, and other tests to help treat the symptoms of the patient’s condition, especially the widespread pain.
Managing the pain that is associated with fibromyalgia is very important as it can limit the patient’s activity level. Fibromyalgia causes pain throughout the entire body, especially in the joints and muscles. A pain management specialist can prescribe medications to help reduce the pain, but they may also have the patient try other pain management techniques so they are not just dependent on medications.
Techniques like biofeedback, meditation and other relaxation methods can help reduce tension in the body that can cause pain to worsen. By knowing their triggers and working to overcome them, fibromyalgia patients can use these techniques to help reduce their level of pain.
While in the past doctors did not take patients seriously when they claimed to feel pain all over their bodies, as well as extreme fatigue, today doctors know that fibromyalgia is a real condition and they take it seriously. The constant fatigue and pain that patients experience can cause them to feel depressed, especially if their normal daily activities have been curtailed because of their condition.
To help treat their depression, their primary care physician may recommend that the patient starts seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist for treatment. Therapy can help them cope with their feelings about their condition and the doctor can prescribe an anti-depressant if they feel it is warranted.
Alternative Medicine Practitioners
More doctors are recognizing the benefits of alternative medical treatments for conditions like fibromyalgia. Some patients who want to try more natural treatments and reduce their dependency on medications may seek out alternative medicine practitioners to help them relief their pain, help ease muscle tension and help both their mind and body relax.
Chiropractic treatments can be used as an alternative to traditional medicine or it can complement your doctor’s treatment plan. Chiropractic care is based on the theory that the body can heal itself. To help promote that healing, chiropractors use spinal adjustments. They use manual adjustments to help increase mobility between the spine‘s vertebra, reduce pain and allow the central nervous system to properly communicate.
Treatments can help reduce the pain fibromyalgia sufferers experience by treating the pain of the body’s pressure points and pain in the back, neck or shoulders. It can also help with headaches and pain resulting from musculoskeletal injuries. Not only can it help reduce pain for your fibromyalgia, but it helps to increase the range of motion in the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine.
Massage therapy is highly regarded as a complementary therapy by people who have fibromyalgia. The research that has been done on the effects of massage on fibromyalgia shows that it can help reduce pain, decrease the need for pain medications. It helps to elevate mood and it can help increase the quality of life for some patients.
Both superficial and deep tissue massage has shown to have some benefits for fibromyalgia. Swedish massage uses long strokes, kneading and friction techniques on the superficial layers of the body’s muscles. This type of massage is also accompanied by passive and active joint movements.
The body’s circulation is stimulated by the stroking and kneading motions of the massage therapist. The therapist may also use an oil to help make the movements of the massage have less friction. As pressure is applied to the body, the movements of the therapist rub the muscles in the same direction as the flow of blood returning from the heart.
The goal of neuromuscular massage is to reduce chronic muscle and soft tissue pain. This type of massage combines shiatsu massage and acupressure as a specific hands-on, deep tissue treatment. The therapist uses slow strokes and direct pressure to loosen chronic patterns of muscular tension.
Studies done on acupuncture show that by inserting needles at specific points in body may help to alter brain chemistry, which seems to be done by releasing neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters work to stimulate or inhibit nerve impulses in the brain that relay information regarding external stimuli and pain sensations. This can help to increase a patient’s pain tolerance levels. One acupuncture treatment can reduce chronic pain for weeks in some patients, including those with fibromyalgia.
A study showed that not only can acupuncture work to reduce pain, but also helps to increase the quality of life for patients who have fibromyalgia. Acupuncture releases endorphins into the bloodstream when the practitioner manipulates the needles. Endorphins act as the body’s natural painkillers.
What you eat can worsen fibromyalgia or it can help to reduce some of the symptoms that you may have. Nutritional therapy can be helpful in reducing stress; getting rid of toxins in the body and restoring the body’s nutrients. Some nutritionists may suggest using vitamin and/or minerals to fight stress, replace any deficiencies that a patient may have or to help boost the immune system.
Nutritionist usually urge fibromyalgia patients to limit or avoid sugary foods, avoid drinking too much caffeine and alcohol because these substances have been found to irritate muscles and add stress to the body. Before trying any of the diets that are especially designed to treat fibromyalgia, discuss them with your doctor as some foods or supplements can have serious or dangerous side effects when combined with some medications.
Experience is Key
Before you make an appointment with either a medical specialist or an alternative medicine practitioner, you should do your homework and research to find those with experience in treating fibromyalgia patients. As fibromyalgia often has different symptoms for different patients, it is important to find practitioners who are aware of the various possible symptoms and who can be empathic to the patient’s plight.
Even though fibromyalgia has been proven to be a bonafide condition, there are still doctors who are not convinced of its existence. You, as a patient, need to avoid those practitioners at all cost. You need a practitioner who is aware of the complications of fibromyalgia and who know what to do to alleviate its symptoms.
It is especially important to find an alternative medicine practitioner, like a massage therapist, who have previously treated fibromyalgia patients. The wrong massage technique could trigger and worsen pain instead of making it better. If you cannot find out information on a specialist’s experience with fibromyalgia patients, make an appointment for a consultation and interview him or her and ask about their experience treating fibromyalgia.
Look for an Empathic Specialist
Fibromyalgia is a challenging health condition for those who suffer from it and it can be difficult to treat because of the wide variety of symptoms that can accompany it. There is no cure for the condition and it can be hard for some patients to endure. As it can adversely affect their quality of life, many patients develop depression, especially as their day-to-day activities become limited due to the widespread pain in the body’s muscles and joints.
Along with depression, some patients may have high levels of stress and anxiety due to their condition. Stress can cause tension throughout the body, which can exacerbate symptoms and worsen fibromyalgia pain. Due to the fact that this condition can cause serious psychology problems to develop, patients need specialists who are understanding and have empathy for their condition. Seeing someone who isn’t empathic can cause stress to worsen, which is detrimental to the patient.
Find Specialists Willing to Try Different Treatments
A good specialist will be willing to try different treatments if a one does not help their patient. They must also be willing to cooperate with the different specialists that their fibromyalgia patients may be seeing to treat the various symptoms that they may be suffering from. Some patients may have four or five specialists that they may be seeing to treat their medical problems and each one should be cooperative in forming the patients’ treatment plans.
Your specialists should also be open to trying alternative treatments like massage therapy or acupuncture to reduce pain and other symptoms if you wish to try a more natural approach to treating your condition. Many medical professionals are skeptical of alternative therapies, but a growing number of them now recommend them to their patients if they think their patients can benefit from them.
Cooperate with the Treatment Plan
If you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it is important to be cooperative and follow the treatment plan that your doctors have developed for you. Your symptoms will not improve if you don’t try to cooperate with your doctors. If you don’t agree with their treatment plan, speak up and make them aware of your reservations during your appointment. You should be able work out a treatment plan with your doctor on which you both can agree.
If you do try a treatment plan and it fails to alleviate your symptoms, let your specialist know so they can adjust the plan. You may have to see another specialist to treat any specific symptoms that are complicating your fibromyalgia.
As with any medical condition, a fibromyalgia sufferer has to work with their primary care physician and the specialists treating them in order to let them know how well a treatment is working. Your doctors will not know whether your symptoms are getting better or if the treatments are ineffective without your feedback. When you and your doctors work together, your fibromyalgia can be effectively treated.
What Is Fibromyalgia? http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/what-is-fibromyalgia
Doctors Who Treat Fibromyalgia: http://www.healthline.com/health/fibromyalgia-doctors-specialists#Overview1
Fibromyalgia and Alternative Treatments: http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/natural-therapies-and-alternative-treatments-for-fibromyalgia