Important Facts for Fibromyalgia-Sufferers
Fibromyalgia is a common, unexplained, debilitating medical condition that causes long-term, wide-spread body pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons and soft tissues. Over 6 million people suffer from fibromyalgia. However, there isn’t much known about the condition within the medical community. Therefore, there are some basic things that every fibromyalgia-sufferer should know in order to help manage their lifelong struggle with fibromyalgia.
It has been estimated that fibromyalgia affects over 6 million American people age 18 years or older. Between 80 and 90 percent of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women. However, men and children also can develop the condition. Most people are diagnosed during middle age, although the symptoms often become present earlier in life. Additionally, people with certain rheumatic diseases may be more likely to have fibromyalgia. Lastly, several studies indicate that women who have a family member with fibromyalgia are more likely to have fibromyalgia as well. Unproven, scientists speculate that heredity, shared environmental factors, or both may be reasons for this family connection.
The Cause of Fibromyalgia
The causes of fibromyalgia are still unknown, but there are a number of risk factors or triggers involved. Many people can connect the development of fibromyalgia with a physically or emotionally stressful or traumatic event, such as a motor vehicle accident. Some associate it to repetitive sports or work injuries. Others link it to a specific illness or surgery. For others, fibromyalgia seems to occur spontaneously. Currently, scientists are examining other causes, including problems with how the central nervous system processes pain. Some scientists speculate that a person’s genes may regulate the way his or her body processes painful stimuli. According to this theory, people with fibromyalgia may have a gene or genes that cause them to overreact to things that most people would not interpret as painful. There have already been several genes identified that occur more commonly in fibromyalgia patients.
Diagnosing Criteria for Fibromyalgia
Research shows that people with fibromyalgia usually see several physicians before receiving the definitive diagnosis. This could possibly be because that pain and fatigue, the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, coincide with those of many other conditions. Therefore, physicians will commonly spend the time ruling out other causes of these symptoms before finally making the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Additionally, there are not any lab tests for fibromyalgia. Because there is no definitive test for fibromyalgia, some doctors may not believe the person or know exactly how to treat them. However, a doctor that is familiar with the condition of fibromyalgia can make a definitive diagnosis based on specific criteria established by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). The criteria or symptoms include:
- A history of widespread pain lasting more than 3 months, and the presence of diffuse tenderness.
- At least 11 tender points on the body (there are 18 possible sites).
- Severe fatigue, waking unrefreshed, and cognitive (memory or thought) problems. Plus a number of other general physical symptoms.
- No other health problems that would explain the chronic pain and other general symptoms.
Prognosis for Fibromyalgia Pain
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, meaning it lasts a long time—possibly a lifetime. However, it may be comforting to know that fibromyalgia is not a progressive disease. It is never fatal, and it will not cause damage to the joints, muscles, or internal organs. In many people, the condition does improve over time. Although, there are many steps that patients can take towards a better quality of life. The lifestyle habits include, but are not limited to:
- Beginning and maintaining a regular sleeping pattern.
- Eating a healthful, balanced diet.
- Beginning and maintaining a regular, daily exercise program.
- Practicing stress-relief activities such as stretching and deep breathing exercise.
Resources and Further Important Information for Fibromyalgia Patients
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
National Institutes of Health
Toll Free: 877-22-NIAMS (877-226-4267)
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
National Institutes of Health
Social Security Administration
American College of Rheumatology (ACR)
Advocates for Fibromyalgia Funding, Treatment, Education, and Research
National Fibromyalgia Association
National Fibromyalgia Partnership, Inc.