If you have been experiencing chronic muscle pain, joint pain, and fatigue, you may be among the approximately 10 million Americans who suffer from fibromyalgia. With an estimated three to six percent of the population of the world diagnosed, it is the most common chronic pain condition. Although it affects middle-aged women more than any other demographic, people of all races, ages, and backgrounds can become afflicted by it.
What is Fibromyalgia?
There is a great deal of misunderstanding out there about fibromyalgia. A chronic pain disorder that is characterized by tenderness and pain throughout the body — particularly in muscles and joints — it is still poorly understood by the medical and scientific communities.
Because there are no definitive laboratory tests for detecting the condition, fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose. Many people suffer from it for years before arriving at the proper diagnosis. Even when properly diagnosed, fibromyalgia is also difficult to treat. There is no cure, but there are steps that can be taken to manage the pain and other symptoms.
Common Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Some of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- muscle pain
- joint pain
- pain and tenderness throughout the body
- cognitive problems, which are often called “fibro fog”
- feeling unrefreshed upon waking up
- low threshold for pain
Although less common, fibromyalgia can also prompt the following symptoms:
- dry nose, mouth, and eyes
- belly pain
- increase in the frequency of urination
- sensitivity to light, sound, cold, or heat
- feelings of bloating or queasiness
- diarrhea and/or constipation
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, which means that it is ongoing as opposed to being acute, which means that symptoms only strike occasionally. Unlike many chronic conditions, it is not progressive in nature. Symptoms may not worsen over time, but they do not lessen, either. Due to the generalized nature of many of the most common symptoms of this condition, it can be extremely difficult to diagnose.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you would probably like to know how you developed the condition. Unfortunately, researchers are still uncertain as to how and why this condition develops in some people. It is believed that it may involve problems with how the brain and spinal cord respond to and process pain signals from nerves around the body, but the precise mechanism behind it is poorly misunderstood.
Factors that may contribute to the development of fibromyalgia include:
- repetitive injuries
- certain diseases and illnesses
- a traumatic or stressful occurrence, like a car accident
Fibromyalgia Risk Factors
Certain factors may increase your risk for developing fibromyalgia, including the following:
- Being female: Approximately 75 to 90 percent of fibromyalgia sufferers are women.
- Being sedentary: People who rarely exercise appear to be at a greater risk of developing fibromyalgia.
- Having a family history of the condition: If you have relatives who suffer from fibromyalgia, you are more likely to develop the condition yourself.
- Having a mood disorder: People who suffer from conditions like anxiety and depression are more likely to develop fibromyalgia.
- Having another painful condition: If you suffer from another chronic pain condition, like arthritis, you are at increased risk of developing this disease.
How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
There is no lab test that can definitively diagnose fibromyalgia, which is why this disease can be so difficult to properly diagnose.
The first step is typically to rule out other conditions, including things like lupus, underactive thyroid, and arthritis. Blood tests may be performed to check for signs of infection and for current levels of key hormones in the body. X-rays may also be performed in some cases. A physician will typically then use a two-part scoring system to determine whether or not fibromyalgia is likely to be present. This system assesses how widespread symptoms are across the body and how severe they are.
Treatment Options for Fibromyalgia
Because fibromyalgia is still so poorly understood, it continues to be difficult to treat. Typically, the top concern when treating fibromyalgia is effective pain management, and treatment options span a few different areas. To arrive at the right treatment plan, you will likely work with a team of medical professionals, including your own physician, a physical therapist, and, in some cases, a mental health professional.
The most common treatment options for fibromyalgia fall into the following categories:
A variety of medications may be prescribed to address various aspects and symptoms of fibromyalgia. For the chronic pain, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are often fairly effective. For nerve pain, a medication called pregabalin is commonly prescribed. Minacipran and duloxetine are medications that are commonly prescribed to address pain and fatigue.
Certain lifestyle changes can help to ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Low-impact exercise, in particular, can help to reduce symptoms and to make them more manageable. Your doctor may also recommend getting plenty of sleep, adjusting your work schedule as needed, and adjusting your diet to ensure that you are getting proper nutrition.
There are also many complementary therapies that have been shown to produce positive results for people who suffer from fibromyalgia. Many sufferers regularly visit pain or rheumatology clinics for ongoing treatment. Because the condition tends to affect the muscles and joints, many find regular visits to the chiropractor to be very beneficial. Techniques like acupuncture may help to alleviate pain at tender points across the body, so they may be worth looking into. Techniques that help to strengthen and stretch out the body may also help, and they include things like yoga, tai chi, and Pilates.
Although there may not be a single treatment option to effectively address fibromyalgia, most people are able to find a combination of treatments that works. However, this typically involves a process of trial and error that can be extremely frustrating to endure. By working with a team of qualified medical professionals, however, it is usually possible to arrive at a treatment plan that effectively eases the worst symptoms of the condition.
Being diagnosed with fibromyalgia is scary, but it’s not the end of the world. Know that you are not alone and that there are plenty of treatment options out there to explore. With the right medical care and lifestyle changes, you can live a full and happy life even while suffering from fibromyalgia.