Overview and Facts
Fibromyalgia is a rheumatic, arthritis-related illness. This chronic pain disorder is a syndrome, rather than a disease, meaning there is a collection of signs and symptoms that occur together.
Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome, fibrositis and fibromyositis, is characterized by widespread pain in muscles, joints and tendons. More than 12 milion Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, most of them women age 25-60. Besides osteoarthritis, it is the most common arthritis-related illness. Fibromyalgia is also closely related to chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by severe fatigue, which is also a fibromyalgia symptom.
Signs and Symptoms
The primary symptom of fibromyalgia is chronic widespread pain. It is a profound pain and can affect all parts of the body. Fibromyalgia pain is sometimes described as stabbing and shooting pain, and it is often worse in the morning hours. Outside factors that aggravate fibromyalgia pain are physical and mental fatigue, excessive physical activity or inactivity, cold or humid weather and stress.
Along with general fibromyalgia pain are other signs of fibromyalgia such as:
- Sleep disturbances
- Moderate to extreme fatigue
- Profound exhaustion
- Joint pain
- Poor stamina
- Sensitivity to touch, light, sound
- Irritable bowel and bladder
- Restless legs syndrome
- Sensitive skin
- Difficulty concentrating
Sometimes symptoms of fibromyalgia are similar to that of a viral flu, and because of that reason, some experts believe that fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are closely related and perhaps even the same illness.
Causes and Diagnosis
The exact underlying causes of fibromyalgia are unknown, however research points to many different theories. Many studies show that fibromyalgia is a disorder of central processing with neuroendocrine/neurotransmitter dysregulation. Some suffering from fibromyalgia experiences pain intensity because of abnormal sensory processing in the central nervous system.
A growing number of scientific studies show multiple physiological abnormalities that can be causes of fibromyalgia, including low levels of blood flow to thalamus region of the brain, increased levels of substance P in spinal cord and low levels of serotonin and tryptophan.
There are also risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop fibromyalgia. These factors are not necessarily causes of fibromyalgia, but they can increase the risk:
- Gender (women are ten times more likely to suffer from fibromyalgia)
- Experiencing menopause
- Trauma to central nervous system after an accident, illness or injury
In addition, some women have fibromyalgia with other certain diseases, including system lupus, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed – on average, it takes close to five years for a person with fibromyalgia to receive an accurate diagnosis. There is no x-ray or lab test that can clearly diagnose it. Rather, a doctor will come to a diagnosis after a thorough physical exam and discussion of your medical history and pain symptoms. The doctor may use tests to eliminate other possible illness that may be causing what seems to be fibromyalgia pain.
To receive a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, the follwing criteria must be met:
- Widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body for a minimum of three months
- Tenderness or pain in at least 11 of the 18 specified tender points when pressure is applied
Tests and Treatment Options
There is no one pill or medication that can cure fibromyalgia. Treatment of fibromyalgia widely relies on lifestyle adaptation, which can bring about significant improvement in function and quality of life. Each case of fibromyalgia is different; therefore, the patient should work with a doctor to establish an individual plan that works best. Medical treatments for fibromyalgia include:
- Pain management – a number of treatments are available for prescription
- Sleep management – implementing a healthy sleep regimen and routine
- Psychological support – develop a program that offers emotional support and increases communication with family and friends
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
Fibromyalgia treatment not only includes conventional medical treatments, but alternative treatments and home remedies may be useful to for relief of fibromyalgia pain.
Alternative treatments include:
- Physical therapy
- Yoga/relaxation techniques
- Nutritional supplements
- Light aerobics
- Herbs and supplements
Fibromyalgia Support Groups
Fibromyalgia support groups offer helpful information and insights on common practices to reduce the symptoms and signs of fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia support groups are readily available in most large cities and can extremely helpful for those suffering from pain by learning about helpful rememdies such as group therapeutic excercise, dieting, doctor referrals, and holistic remedies.