Fibromyalgia: An Overview
Fibromyalgia is one of the most common musculoskeletal condition, only second to osteoarthritis. Fibromyalgia is still misunderstood and even frequently misdiagnosed. In addition to the widespread muscle and joint pain and fatigue, other symptoms may also be present. Though fibromyalgia can impact any gender and at any age, it is most commonly found in women between ages 40-55.
Doctors do not know the exact cause of fibromyalgia, but believe it is a variety of things working together. Some of the contributing factors include: genetics, infections and trauma. Genetics seems to play an important role, as the condition tends to run in families. Doctors believe there are certain mutations in the genes making some people more susceptible to the condition than others. Some illnesses or infections are thought to possible aggravate or even trigger fibromyalgia pains. Lastly, both physical and emotional trauma can be a factor in being diagnosed with fibromyalgia pain. There have been studies to show that people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder have a higher risk of developing fibromyalgia than their peers.
Fibromyalgia causes intense pain and feelings of achiness or fatigue all over the body. Tender points in the body are sensitive, even painful to touch. These tender points are actually used in the diagnoses of fibromyalgia. There are 18 tender points in the body; to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia you must experience pain in at least 11 points. Muscles may feel as if they have been pulled, even without cause. You may experience muscle spasms, burning sensation or a deep stabbing pain. The most common areas of pain for fibromyalgia sufferers are the muscles around the neck, shoulders, back, and hips. Even though the joints may appear to be achy, fibromyalgia only impacts the muscles and there is no actual joint pain or damage. While the discomfort may mimic that of arthritis, it is very different. One simple difference between the two is that arthritis is focused on a specific area and fibromyalgia pain is widespread. In addition to dealing with the pain and achiness, you may also experience the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain, cramping, bloating
- Sleep disturbances/lack of deep restful sleep
- Swelling or puffiness
- Mood swings
- Depression and Anxiety
- Chronic headaches or migraines
- Dryness in the mouth, nose, and eyes
- Extreme sensitivities to hot and cold
- Difficulty concentrating or relaying a clear thought (casually referred to as “fibro fog”)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet.
When seeking an option for dealing with your fibromyalgia pain, there are drug therapies, alternative remedies, and simple lifestyle changes that may help to improve your discomfort. There is no known cure or “magic pill” for ending your pain. It is important to seek the support of your physician in creating a diverse plan that will meet all of your needs.
One of the most common forms of treatment is medication. Most of the options available for fibromyalgia will not only reduce the level of pain, but help to improve sleep, as well. Common choices your doctors may recommend are:
- Analgesics – (Tylenol) to help ease pain and stiffness. This group also includes non-hormoneal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil and Aleve to be used in conjunction with other medications.
- Anti-depressants-help to relieve pain, fatigue and promote deeper sleep cycles. Prozac and depression meds are the most common uses anti-depressants for fibromyalgia
- Anti-Seizure drugs-though designed to treat epilepsy, studies have found that it is often helpful in reducing symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.
Alternative Therapy options such as yoga, acupuncture and massage therapy are easily accessible and can be obtained without the need of a prescription. In some cases, insurance companies may even cover a portion of your acupuncture or massage therapy, so be sure to check out those details in advance. Finally, there are five little lifestyle changes you can make without the assistance of your physician and see a dramatic impact on your symptoms. Reduce your stress levels, get enough sleep, exercise, don’t “overdo it,” and eat a well-balanced diet are all ways you can improve your discomfort without the need of medication.