FYBROMYALGIA: AN OVERVIEW
Fybromyalgia is a condition that causes chronic pain in the muscles and ligaments. Even though this disorder affects about 4 million Americans, the majority are women between the ages of 30-60. In addition to pain and stiffness, other symptoms of fybromyalgia include fatigue, depression, sleep problems, and an inability to think clearly.
Like many other diseases, doctors do not know what causes fybromyalgia. However, research has brought to light many interesting facts about the disease. One thing researchers have concluded is that people with this condition process pain differently than those without fybromyalgia. The level of chemical in the cerebrospinal fluid called substance P, which transmits pain impulses to the brain, is three times higher in fybromyalgic patients than in normal people. This could explain why those suffering with this condition have pain that is very intense.
Other researchers believe fybromyalgia is caused by a lack of deep sleep. When the body sleeps, it enters into different stages during the normal sleep pattern. It is during stage 4 that the body recovers from the previous day’s activities and refreshes itself. Sleep studies have shown that those with fybromyalgia do not enter into this stage of deep sleep. Instead, they are more aroused and stay in a lighter stage of sleep. Even though they may sleep for long periods of time, they lack the deep sleep of stage 4. In one study, people without fybromyalgia were participants that were deprived of the stage 4 deep sleep process and, as a result, they developed symptoms similar to those of fybromyalgia.
- Pain – The most significant symptoms of fybromyalgia is pain. This is different from pain caused by arthritis; it is not in the joints but in the muscles and ligaments. The tenderness is worse in the morning and is described as flu-like.
- Fatigue – A close second to pain, fatigue is a common symptom. In fact, it is so common that doctors are starting to think that fybromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are one in the same. This fatigue can range from mild to debilitating where some people are unable to keep their jobs. No amount of sleep at night or rest during the day can bring relief.
- Fibrofog – This symptom is also common and is a sort of mental haziness. Patients experience a lack of concentration, memory loss, and depression.
- Other symptoms – Other symptoms include insomnia, nervousness, headaches, numbness, dizziness, and intestinal disturbances.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP
As with any disease, you need to call your doctor if you experience symptoms of fybromyalgia. Together, you and your physician can come up with a treatment plan that will work for your particular type symptoms. If you continue to experience symptoms after meeting with your practitioner, set up another appointment as there may be other treatments available that have not been explored by you and your doctor.
EXAMS AND TESTS
There is no simple blood test or exam to check if you have fybromyalgia. Your doctor will give an examination and review your medical history. A blood test will probably be given in order to rule out other possible conditions that mimic fybromyalgia. According to medical organizations, a diagnosis of fybromyalgia cannot be given unless pain has been present for at least three months and the pain is located in tender points. There are 18 tender points on the body, mostly on the neck and back. Your doctor makes a diagnosis by applying pressure to these tender points. If 11 out of the 18 tender points result in discomfort, then a diagnosis of fybromyalgia is made.
Although there is no cure for fybromyalgia, there are certain actions you can take to help ease the symptoms.
- One of the most important actions you can take to help with fybromyalgia is to participate in a low-impact exercise. This routine will keep the muscles flexible and healthy and greatly reduce pain. You need to set up a routine of exercise three times a week and choose low-stress exercises such as walking, swimming, water aerobics, or biking. Besides helping with pain, regular exercise will help boost energy levels and give better sleep.
- Other home techniques include heat applied to sore muscles, massage, and stretching exercises like Pilates.
- Over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen may help.
There are several medications that can help and your doctor may prescribe these for you to try. However, if you do not like putting drugs into your body, alternative treatments are available. Acupuncture, biofeedback, massage therapy, and tender point injections may provide relief from the symptoms.
Since the cause of fybromyalgia is not yet understood, there is no way to prevent the disease from occurring. However, developing a healthy outlook is the way for anyone to maintain a quality lifestyle. Eat healthy, exercise, maintain regular sleep habits, and have a positive outlook on life. This winning combination will help you control your fybromyalgia symptoms.