Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes muscle pain, fatigue, pain sensitivity, and joint discomfort. This common condition is type of arthritis that is easily missed and not thoroughly understood.
As the second most common condition impacting the health of our bones and muscles, it’s important to give you the facts on fibromyalgia. You may know someone who has fibromyalgia or be living with this condition. Now, when someone asks you: What is fibromyalgia?, you can share this article with them.
The signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia are what make it challenging to diagnose. Common symptoms including joint discomfort, muscle discomfort, and overwhelming fatigue are the hallmarks of fibromyalgia.
Like so many joint and muscle conditions, there is no known cause for fibromyalgia. However, doctors do know that there are a number of ways to lessen the symptoms of this condition. Read on to learn more about fibromyalgia and how it impacts those around you living with it.
What Are the Possible Causes of Fibromyalgia?
While doctors do not know why some people develop fibromyalgia, they have been able to identify possible causes or reasons why some people develop this condition. For people suffering from fibromyalgia, they are often in intense full-body pain.
This pain is present when there is no sign of injury or sickness. Doctors believe that this enhanced pain is a result of some people having a misfire or glitch in how the brain and spinal cord manage pain signals.
Doctors aren’t sure why this happens to some people and not to others. They have learned that people with fibromyalgia might have a higher than average number of cells that carry pain signals than is normal. The result is having a body that is extremely sensitive to pain, small bumps and bruises hurt more than they do for others and pain can arise from absolutely nothing.
It’s not clear why some people have enhanced pain signals, but we do know that there are some factors that can result in over-active pain cells:
- Genetics. Fibromyalgia is often common in families. Parents pass on these pain-sensitive genes to their children along with other genes that can make their children more anxious or depressed, making the pain stronger.
- Other conditions or diseases. People with another auto-immune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or lupus are more susceptible to developing fibro.
- Emotional or physical abuse. Because of the connection to pain and how the brain handles pain and stress, researchers have learned that children who suffer emotional or physical abuse are at higher risk for fibromyalgia.
- Gender. This condition is more common in women than men.
- Lack of exercise. Fibromyalgia is common in people who do not get enough daily physical exercise. In fact, one of the best treatments for fibro is regular daily exercise.
What Are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
The hallmark symptom of fibromyalgia is all-over body aches and pain. This pain is constant and can be so overwhelming that sufferers cannot sleep, go to work, or function through-out the day.
Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Muscle discomfort, burning, tightness, or twitching muscles.
- Specific sensitive areas and a heightened pain sensitivity or low pain threshold.
- Overwhelming fatigue that drains all energy.
- A feeling of being in a fog or cloud – having trouble remembering or concentrating. This is often called “fibro fog”.
- Insomnia and constantly disrupted sleep. This is often a result of the overwhelming pain.
- Feeling stressed, depressed, worried, or nervous.
- Pain and stiffness through-out your entire body. Every joint can be impacted, making it hard to walk, sleep, drive, etc.
- Bloating, stomach pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
- A heightened sensitivity to light, sound, cold, or heat.
- Numbness or tingling in your feet, hands, face, arms, hands, or legs.
This list of symptoms is what makes it so hard to diagnose fibromyalgia. People often suffer for a long time before getting diagnosed.
How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, there is not one definitive test that doctors can use to diagnose fibromyalgia. Instead, the diagnose typically comes after ruling out all other disease possibilities. The symptoms of fibro are common to other conditions including arthritis, lupus, underactive thyroid, and other auto-immune conditions.
To rule out these conditions, doctors use blood tests to monitor inflammation and hormone levels, overall health, indicators of lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, and other indicators.
If no other underlying condition can be identified, and the patient has been suffering from three months of uninterrupted continuous all-body pain, doctors will deliver a fibromyalgia diagnosis.
As we highlighted above, because of the symptoms and long list of unknowns about fibromyalgia, it can take a long time for patients to receive a diagnosis. This can be very frustrating, depressing, and scary for those suffering and their loved ones.
How is Fibromyalgia Treated?
Like most auto-immune diseases, there is not one sure-fire cure or treatment for fibromyalgia. This condition is unique for each individual and as a result requires a personalized approach to treatment. The good news is that doctors have developed a better understanding of what could cause fibro, and are now able to offer sufferers treatments that can provide relief.
Typically, treatment involves a combination of medication and self-care – this depends on the severity of the disease. The overall goal of a fibro treatment plan is to lessen the symptoms and to improve patient overall health.
- Pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help ease some of the pain and discomfort. Depending on the pain level, your doctor might prescribe a prescription pain reliever.
- Antidepressants. Depression is a common symptom of fibro, due to the constant pain and connections to traumatic events. As a result, antidepressants can be a benefit to some patients. Sleep aids can help as well in giving patients the ability to rest and get adequate sleep.
- Anti-seizure medication. The pain that comes with fibro is debilitating, and some anti-seizure medications are effective in lessening this pain. Lyrica is the first drug approved by the FDA to treat fibromyalgia.
- Therapy. Physical therapy is often used to help strengthen muscles and assist in better joint health. An occupational therapist can help patients make adjustment in their workplace and home to reduce body stress and discomfort. Emotional therapy is useful in helping patients deal with the stress, uncertainty, and depression that comes with fibro.
- Exercise. Because fibromyalgia is more common in people who do not get regular daily exercise, doctors often prescribe exercise. This can be challenging given the pain and discomfort but by starting slowly with a low-impact activity such as walking or water aerobics, you can gradually increase your joint health and overall body strength.
How Can I Learn More About Fibromyalgia?
Visit the following websites to learn more about fibromyalgia: