Fibromyalgia is a syndrome- which is a collection of symptoms- and is a very common, chronic disorder.
Individuals with fibromyalgia experience tenderness, widespread pain, and a host of other signs and symptoms.
The term “fibromyalgia” comes from “fibro” which is a Latin term for fibrous tissue, “myo” which is a Greek term meaning muscle, and “algia” which is also a Greek term meaning pain.
While it is true that fibromyalgia is in the same family as arthritis, it is actually not a form of arthritis because it does not result in inflammation or damage to the muscles, joints, or other tissues.
However, like arthritis, this condition can cause fatigue and significant pain, and can keep an individual from going about their daily activities.
In addition, fibromyalgia is considered to be a rheumatic condition, which is one that causes impairment to the joints/soft tissues and chronic pain.
In addition to fatigue and pain, individuals with the condition of fibromyalgia can experience a variety of other symptoms including the following:
- Memory/cognitive problems
- Morning stiffness
- Painful menstrual periods
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep disturbances
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Temperature sensitivity
- Numbness/tingling in extremities
Individuals may have at least two (sometimes more) chronic pain conditions that coexist.
These conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, fibromyalgia, vulvodynia, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
Experts have not yet determined whether or not these conditions have a common cause.
Who Has Fibromyalgia?
Experts in the medical community estimate that around 5 million Americans 18 and over suffer from this condition. Most of these- between 80-90 percent- are women.
However, keep in mind that men and children can also be affected. While the symptoms are often present earlier in life, most of the time people are diagnosed in middle age.
Individuals who also have specific rheumatic diseases are more likely to develop this condition.
In addition, women with a family member who has fibromyalgia are more likely to develop the condition- but the connection to why is not known- it could be genetics or shared family environmental factors.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
While experts are still not sure what exactly causes this condition, there are several factors at play.
Most of the time, people believe that fibromyalgia develops due to an emotionally or physically stressful/traumatic event. Others believe that it is due to repetitive injuries.
Still others believe that a specific illness caused it and finally, some believe that it just spontaneously happens.
There are some scientists that believe an individual’s genes could regulate the way their body processes painful/stressful stimuli.
Therefore, it is believed that those individuals who have this condition have a particular gene or genes that cause them to react more strongly to this painful/stressful stimuli.
Research has revealed that individuals with this condition see a variety of physicians before finally receiving this diagnosis.
One of the reasons for this is that the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia also overlap with the signs and symptoms of other conditions.
Therefore, these other conditions must be ruled out before a diagnosis can be confirmed.
There are no diagnostic laboratory tests for this condition- therefore, physicians often believe that an individual’s pain is not real or they may even tell them that there is nothing that can be done for them.
The condition of fibromyalgia is often very difficult to treat. Since not all physicians are familiar with this condition and its treatment, it is critical that you find a physician that is.
In order to treat fibromyalgia, a medical team must be put together, including a medical physician, a physical therapist, and a few other medical professionals.
The most important part of this team is yourself- you must play a very active role in your treatment and give feedback on what is working and what isn’t.
There are only three medications that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating the condition of fibromyalgia.
However, physicians may treat this condition with some other medications that have been developed and approved to treat other conditions.
One of the medications used to treat fibromyalgia is analgesics. These medications are painkillers and range from OTC to prescription-strength.
In some cases, a physician may prescribe narcotic drugs for severe pain.
However, there is no proof that these narcotics actually work for treating the pain related to fibromyalgia so most physicians are hesitant to prescribe them for the long-term due to the risk of addiction.
On the other hand, some physicians and individuals are turning more towards the complementary and alternative therapies including movement therapies, herbs/dietary supplements, massage, chiropractic treatments, and acupuncture.
There is a varying degree of success with these therapies.
Things You Can Do To Feel Better
While medical and the alternative/complementary therapies are wonderful and can help you to cope with your condition- there are a few things you can do on your own to help keep it under control.
Following are a few tips to feel better:
Get enough sleep
Making sure that you’re getting adequate sleep can ease the fatigue and pain related to fibromyalgia.
However, some individuals with this condition have co-existing conditions that prevent them from sleeping well.
These issues should be discussed with your physician who can help you treat those.
while it is true that the fatigue and pain related to this condition can make it difficult to perform daily tasks- much less exercise- it is necessary that you are as physically active as you can be.
Research has revealed that exercising on a regular basis is one of the most effective treatments for many different conditions- including fibromyalgia.
However, if your pain is severe, start with some gentle exercises and build up the intensity incrementally.
in some cases, individuals with this condition say that they feel better when they are avoiding or eating specific foods.
However, there is no diet that has been proven to treat/aggravate this condition. Still, you should strive to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
Make some changes at work
In most cases, individuals with this condition will be able to keep working, but they are likely to have to make some changes in order to do so.
They may cut back on hours, switch to a position that is not quite as demanding or even makes some adaptations to continue doing their current job.
You should see an occupational therapist find out what you can do differently.