Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Fibromyalgia and Finding Support
Fibromyalgia symptoms can overlap with autoimmune diseases and other musculoskeletal conditions making it difficult to diagnose. The defining symptoms of fibromyalgia are often associated with other subjective and objective symptoms which occur in combination. It is estimated that fibromyalgia syndrome affects about 2 percent of the U.S. population.
How to Diagnose Fibromyalgia
In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) listed two primary criteria for the classification of fibromyalgia. 1) A history of widespread pain involving all four quadrants of the body (right side, left side, above waist, below waist) for a period of at least 3 months. The second criteria from the ACR which points to fibromyalgia is, upon physical examination, the presence of pain in at least 11 of 18 tender points when touched or pressed with force amounting to the equivalent of 9 lbs. More recent data indicates that there may be an increased sensitivity to pain throughout the body, pain may be migratory (move around) or may exist as chronic regional pain. Most experts are said to believe fibromyalgia results from abnormal central nervous system function. Response to stress may also contribute to fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia primarily occurs in women of childbearing age. Children, the elderly, and men can also be affected. Besides the defining symptoms of pain and tenderness, there are many non-defining symptoms associated with fibromyalgia including:
- Fatigue, night sweats, and sleep disturbances.
- Memory difficulties and cognitive difficulties.
- Tension or migraine headaches, rib cage pain, chronic pelvic pain, or heel pain.
- Fluctuations in weight, heat or cold intolerance, subjective feeling of weakness.
- Ear-nose-throat complaints, multiple chemical sensitivities and a wide array of allergic symptoms.
- Hearing, vision, and balance abnormalities.
- Heartburn, palpitations and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety occur more commonly in people who have fibromyalgia.
How to Treat Fibromyalgia
- Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can be non-defining and mimic other diseases. Persist in getting a proper diagnosis.
- Aerobic exercise, such as swimming and walking, improves muscle fitness and reduces muscle pain and tenderness.
- Heat and massage may also give short-term pain relief.
- Patients with fibromyalgia may benefit from a combination of exercise, medication, physical therapy, and relaxation.
- Fibromyalgia medication options include antidepressants, muscle relaxants, analgesic painkillers, NSAIDs, and/or sedatives.
Acceptance for Living With Fibromyalgia
A chronic illness like fibromyalgia changes your life. It can be hard to accept those changes, especially when it means giving up things you care about. When you’re adapting your life to chronic illness, it’s normal to go through a grieving process, just as if someone close to you had died. The final phase of the grief cycle is acceptance. Some people confuse “acceptance” with “giving up,” but acceptance actually is a means of looking at your situation realistically so you can set reachable goals. One way to get through this last phase of the grieving process is to join a support group.
Find a Support Group for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia can be lonely conditions. You might find it hard to stay active in social activities, and the people around you may not understand what you’re going through. Many people with fibromyalgia also are clinically depressed, but even if you’re not, it’s common to go through rocky emotional times. Whether you have the most supportive friends and family imaginable or you feel like no one supports you, you may benefit from a support group. Few people understand the reality of what it’s like to have chronic pain or to be exhausted all the time. If they haven’t experienced themselves, it’s hard to truly understand the frustration you face on those days when you just can’t think straight and it’s difficult to hold a simple conversation. Sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone and someone else out there really gets what you’re saying. Also, because of its nature, fibromyalgia is a condition that you have to learn to manage. People who have gone through it can often be the best ones to help you find what helps you most.
You Are Not Alone!
You can find support groups online and, depending on where you live, you may be able to find them in your community as well. You can also ask your doctor and check with local hospitals and your health-insurance company to find out about local resources and programs. If you can’t find a local group, you might consider starting one.