FYBROMYALGIA; PATIENT EDUCATION
Fybromyalgia is a common health problem that affects two to four percent of people, mostly women. The syndrome is characterized by wide spread pain and tenderness to the touch. This pain tends to come and go and move about the body. Although there are no tests to diagnose this disorder, your doctor will make the diagnosis based on your relevant symptoms and not just on the number of tender points you have in your body. He or she may also perform other tests to rule out other conditions that may mimic fybromyalgia. Upon diagnosis, medications may be prescribed to help with symptoms as well as other tips to help you at home such as exercises and techniques to help with sleep issues.
Fybromyalgia can have several symptoms, the most common being wide spread pain. Other symptoms include:
- Tenderness to touch or pressure affecting joints and muscles
- Sleep problems
- Problems with memory or thinking clearly
- Depression or anxiety
- Migraines or tension headaches
- Digestive problems
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Irritable or overactive bladder
- Pelvic pain
- Temporomandipular disorder, often referred to as TMJ
These symptoms can vary from person to person and will wax and wane. The symptoms seem to worsen through time.
What causes fybromyalgia remains unclear and they may be different in different people. In fact, fybromyalgia may run in families. Certain genes may make individuals more prone to get the syndrome than others. But genes, alone, do not cause fybromyalgia. Most often, there is some type of trigger that sets off the fybromyalgia like an injury, spine problems, arthritis, or other types of physical stress. Emotional stress may also cause this. The result is a “change” in how the body “talks” to the spinal cord and brain. Levels of brain chemicals and proteins may change. For a person with this syndrome, it is like the volume has been turned up in the brain’s pain processing center.
Even though fybromyalgia affects mostly women, men can also get it. It normally starts in middle adulthood but can happen to teens and older adults. Children also have been known to have wide spread body pain and fatigue.
A while back doctors would make the diagnosis of fybromyalgia based on a certain number of tender points in the body. These would be areas on the body where the patient would feel tenderness when pressure was applied to that spot. There had to be at least 12 of the 18 areas that had tenderness to touch before a diagnosis could be made. This is no longer the case. Doctors still look for the tender points but they base their diagnosis on the symptoms you experience. They will perform a physical exam to detect tenderness and exclude other possible causes of muscle pain, like other rheumatic diseases. Blood tests and other tests also help rule out these other diseases with similar symptoms.
There are three criteria necessary to diagnose fybromyalgia. They are:
- Pain and symptoms over the past week, based on the total number of:
- Number of painful areas out of 18 parts of the body
- The level of severity of these symptoms:
- Waking unrefreshed
- Cognitive problems
- A number of other general physical symptoms
- Symptoms lasting at least three months at a similar level
- No other health problems that would explain the pain and other symptoms
Since there is no cure for fybromyalgia, treatments and medications treat the symptoms. There are a number of drugs and non-drug treatments. Some of the medications used change the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine to help control pain. As with other drugs, there are side effects so consult with your doctor to see what they are and what the benefits would be from these drugs. Other drugs approved for fybromyalgia work by blocking the over activity of nerve cells involved in pain transmission. These medications may cause dizziness, sleepiness, weight gain, and swelling.
Those who suffer from fybromyalgia should also incorporate non-drug treatments into their regimen as well as the medications their doctors prescribe. Gentle body-based therapies like Tai Chi and yoga can ease symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help redefine your illness beliefs. Also through learning symptoms reduction skills, you can change your behavioral response to pain. Other alternative therapies such as acupuncture and massage can help control fybromyalgia symptoms.
SELF HELP TECHNIQUES
Even though there are a lot of treatment options, patients with fybromyalgia need to combine self-help tips with any medications or other treatments. Together with medications, a healthy lifestyle can reduce pain, increase sleep quality, lessen fatigue, and help you better cope with fybromyalgia. Here are some self-help tips:
- Make time to relax each day
- Set a regular sleep pattern
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a balanced diet
- Educate yourself
Living with fybromyalgia can be difficult and frustrating. However, there are several good treatment options available to help with symptoms. Also, applying self-help tips can work with the other treatment options to lessen symptoms and help you live a normal life.