FYBROMLYALGIA – WHAT IS THIS SYNDROME?
Fybromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain and tenderness that comes and goes. Patients are also plagued by fatigue and sleep problems. Many times, it is difficult to diagnose it. Fybromyalgia (FMS) is a common health problem that affects two to four percent of the population, mostly women. Here are some interesting facts about this syndrome:
- Doctors now diagnose fybromyalgia based on all the patient’s relative symptoms, not just on the tender points.
- While there is no test to diagnose this syndrome, you may have to take tests and x-rays to rule out other possible problems.
- Although there is no cure as yet, there are medications and alternative treatments that can relieve symptoms
- Patients may also feel better with proper self-help remedies, exercise, and regular sleep habits.
FMS acts differently in different people and the causes of it are still unknown. Fibromyalgia seems to run in families. There may be certain genes that cause people to be more prone to the syndrome and to the other health problems associated with it. However, genes alone do not cause fybromyalgia.
There are some things that can trigger the fybromyalgia. It could be spine problem, arthritis, an injury, trauma, or other type of physical stress. Emotional stress may also trigger this condition. The result is a change in how the body “talks” to the spinal cord and brain. Levels of brain chemicals and proteins may change, causing an increase in the pain processing center.
WHO GETS FYBROMYALGIA
Women are the most common victim of fybromyalgia although some men also contract it. This syndrome starts mainly in middle adulthood, but there have been cases where teens, older adults, and even children have experienced the symptoms of fybromyalgia. You are at high risk for fybromyalgia if you have a rheumatic disease. This includes osteoarthritis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or ankytlosing spondylitis.
The major symptoms of fybromyalgia are widespread pain, tenderness, fatigue, and sleep disorders. However, there are other symptoms that many patients also deal with like:
- Depression or anxiety
- Migraine or tension headaches
- Digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Irritable or over-active bladder
- Pelvic pain
- Temporomandipular Joint Syndrome (TMJ)
These symptoms vary over time and will wax and wane. Stress usually causes the symptoms to worsen.
HOW DIAGNOSIS IS MADE
Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your symptoms. Not only will your doctor give a tender point exam but he will also probably perform some other tests to rule out other similar diseases before making the diagnosis of FMS.
Since pain is the main symptom of fybromyalgia, your doctor will ask you to describe your pain. This will help tell the difference between fybromyalgia and other diseases that have similar symptoms. For example, hypothyroidism and polymyalgia rheumatic sometimes mimic fybromyalgia. However, there are tests for these conditions. Sometimes, fybromyalgia is confused with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Again, there are tests that can help rule out these other diseases.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, there are certain criteria that have to be met in order for a diagnosis of fybromyalgia to be made. These are:
- Pain and symptoms over the past week based on the total number of:
- Painful areas out of 18 parts of the body
- Plus level of severity of these symptoms
- Waking unrefreshed
- Cognitive, memory, or thought problems
- Symptoms lasting for three months at a similar level
- No other health problem that would explain the pain and other symptoms
TREATMENTS FOR FYBROMYALGIA
While there is no cure for fybromyalgia, there are medications and non-drug treatments. Some of the drugs used change some of the brain chemicals that control pain levels. Other drugs work by blocking the over activity of nerve cells involved in pain transmission. Your doctor will monitor the success of these agents and help weigh the benefits compared to the side effects.
There are many non-drug or alternative treatments that help with symptoms. These agents do not have the side effects that most of the drugs give with treatment. Fybromyalgia symptoms have been relieved by massage and gentle exercise like Tai Chi and Yoga. Cognitive behavioral therapy and learning symptom reduction skills can help with pain. Acupuncture and massage therapy can also help with symptoms.
LIVING WITH FYBROMYALGIA
In addition to all the medications and alternative treatments, there are other self-help tips that you can use at home:
- Make time to relax each day
- Set a regular sleep pattern
- Exercise often
- Educate yourself
- Look forward, not backward (focus on getting better, not on what caused your symptoms)
- As your symptoms decrease by treatments, resume activities that were stopped because of symptoms
Fybromyalgia is a hard disease to diagnose. Your doctor will probably rule out other diseases with similar symptoms before giving the diagnosis of FMS. However, once diagnosis is made, you can begin the road to a new normal and a better quality of life with fybromyalgia.