Understanding Fibromyalgia

FibromyalgiaFibromyalgia is a rheumatic ailment mainly characterized by prevalent muscle and joint pain.

The disease follows osteoarthritis as the most prevalent arthritis-related ailment.

Aside from physical symptoms, fibromyalgia can also cause social isolation and mental depression.

Coupled with pain-related discomforts, the psychological strains caused by fibromyalgia could lead to reduced labor productivity, income loss and even dismissal from job.

What Is Fibromyalgia Syndrome?

Symptoms of a particular disease are collectively known as syndrome. Syndrome could be considered as an indicator of the occurrence of a disease or greater predisposition to develop a disease. Symptoms commonly associated with fibromyalgia syndrome are:

  • mental depression or anxiety
  • greater sensitivity to pain or trigger points
  • prevalent pain
  • excruciating fatigue

What Triggers Fibromyalgia?

What causes fibromyalgia is not yet fully understood. Several theories attempt to explain the mechanism underlying the disease. It is believed that lack of sleep and physical or psychological trauma are associated with fibromyalgia. It is also proposed that viruses and bacteria may trigger the disease.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia also manifest in response to certain chemicals in brains and nerves. When these chemicals exceed normal levels, symptoms may be triggered in people who have genetic predisposition to develop the disease.

Is Gender A Risk Factor?

Of 12 million Americans who have fibromyalgia, majority are women aged 40 to 60 years old. The chance to develop fibromyalgia is ten times greater among women than men.

What Are The Common Symptoms Of Fibromyalgia?

Widespread pain is the most common symptom of fibromyalgia. Certain trigger points or tender points may ache. Patients may also experience debilitating fatigue. Other symptoms are inflammation, difficulty in sleeping, and psychological disorders such as depression or mood disturbance.

Fibromyalgia makes you fell worn out and overworked. This sensation just occurs even if a patient remains physically inactive. Patients also experience twitching of muscles, burning sensation, and deep muscle pain.

In some cases, fibromyalgia causes painful trigger points in regions surrounding the neck, back, shoulder, and hips, thereby causing sleeping problems and inability to exercise. Other symptoms of the disease are:

  • chronic headache
  • stomach pain
  • mental depression or anxiety
  • difficulty in sleeping or maintaining sleep
  • increased sensitivity to heat and/or cold
  • fatigue upon arising
  • “fibro fog” or difficulty in concentrating
  • painful menstrual cramps
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • numbness of fingers and feet
  • incontinence
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon or abnormal blood circulation in hands and feet
  • muscle stiffness
  • restless legs syndrome
  • dryness of eyes, nose, and mouth

There are similarities between symptoms of fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, tendinitis and bursitis, thus fibromyalgia is classified by some medical experts as an arthritis-related disease. However, pain in tendinitis and bursitis is localized in certain regions of the body, whereas pain and stiffness associated with fibromyalgia are widespread.

How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

Diagnosing fibromyalgia is mainly done through physical examination and analysis of medical history, as there is no specific laboratory test for fibromyalgia. Physicians will also rule out other ailments with symptoms similar to fibromyalgia. This is called diagnosis of exclusion.

Ruling out more serious conditions entails blood tests to determine complete blood count (CBC) and the amount of certain biomarkers such as glucose. Abnormal level of glucose is associated with symptoms similar to fibromyalgia. Another condition to be ruled out is hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. Like fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism causes mental depression, fatigue, muscle pain and weakening of the body.

Other biomarkers measured in laboratory tests are antinuclear antibodies (ANA), calcium, Lyme titers, prolactin, rheumatoid factor (RF), and erythrocyte (red blood cell) sedimentation rate (ESR).

Diagnosis of inclusion works otherwise. Physicians will verify if your symptoms meet the diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia syndrome as defined by the American College of Rheumatology. To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, patients should experience widespread, chronic pain for at least three months. Pain should be present in both sides of the body, lower and upper waist regions, neck, chest, and middle or lower back regions.

Standard diagnosis also assesses the severity of symptoms like sleep problems, mood disorders, and fatigue. Measuring the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms enables physicians to estimate the adverse effects of fibromyalgia syndrome on patients’ physical and emotional well-being and quality of life.

How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?

To date, there is no absolute cure for fibromyalgia. Treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia entails a combination of various drugs, alternative medicine, and health habits. A comprehensive treatment program typically includes aerobic and strengthening exercises and medications.

Drugs

Drugs effectively relieve fibromyalgia symptoms, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Lyrica, Savella and Cymbalta are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  to treat fibromyalgia. Aside from easing shingles and diabetes-induced nerve pain, Lyrica is also proven to improve fibromyalgia pain. Cymbalta and Savella are classified as serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI).

Tricyclic compounds in low dosages also treat fibromyalgia pain. Common brands include Cycloflex, Flexiban, Flexeril, Elavil and Endep. Effexor, Ultram and other antidepressants or dual reuptake inhibitors are also used as pain relievers.

Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac are some of the antidepressants used to improve sleep disorders and pain caused by fibromyalgia. Scientific findings also show that antiepileptic drug Neurontin has a potential to treat fibromyalgia.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are not effective fibromyalgia syndrome pain treatment. If other drugs and non-drug treatment options are futile, physicians may prescribe opium as pain medication.

Alternative Treatments For Fibromyalgia

Though alternative treatments are not well tested, they are somehow effective in managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Examples of alternative treatment are therapeutic massage and myofascial release therapy. Massage manipulates muscles and thus helps relieve deep muscle pain, tender points, and muscles spasms.  Myofascial release therapy eases discomforts in broader range of muscles by stretching, lengthening, softening, and realigning connective tissues.

Doing moderately intense aerobic exercise at least two or three times a day also benefits fibromyalgia patients. This practice is recommended by the American Pain Society (APS). The association also supports other alternative, clinician-assisted pain treatments like acupuncture, hypnosis, chiropractic manipulation, and massage.

In addition to alternative therapies, fibromyalgia patients should also have sufficient rest and relaxation. Deep muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation therapies help fight stress, which can lead to fibromyalgia symptoms. Observing a regular sleeping schedule is also a must, for it enables the body to repair itself.

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3 Responses

  1. Pain Relief says:

    My aunt suffers from fibromyalgia and thank you for this information. She normally have a lot of muscle pain and numbness in her hands. I will inform her about the therapeutic massage to see if it will work. Thanks again for the article.

  2. linda fernicola says:

    i have fibro/ now for 6mos.have tryed lyrica didnt work bad side effects wanted to kill myself so stop that one. and know im trying savella my 11 day so for no side effects, but still can’it sleep past 4 to 5 hrs/ if im luck. still very tried all the time take alot of pain pill low dose in the day and a stronger one at night.is so bad some tome you just feel like all this med is a waste ofv time.so im praying this new med will work. linda fernicola

  3. Susan says:

    I’ve suffered for 3 yrs with fibro… It has been difficult regulating the correct meds. I attend a pain clinic for marcaine injections..I do get some relief from this. Flexeril at night 10mg. Gabapentin morning and night. I have major depression from this and severe sleep disturbances…I find this very challenging. As much as your family and friends try to help…they do not understand the complexity of pain you suffer day and night. Physical and emotional.

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