Do you always complain about widespread and chronic muscle pain accompanied by fatigue? Do you experience trouble sleeping, or do you have tender points (points that hurt when you put pressure on them) on your body? You consulted your doctor but all tests done came back negative. You may be suffering from fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). It is a common condition yet often misdiagnosed, as most of its symptoms mimic those of other diseases. However, once its diagnosis is established, medications to alleviate the symptoms are available although no permanent cure is being offered at the moment.
1 Fibromyalgia Defined
Simply put, fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by generalized, chronic muscle pain. Fibromyalgia is often accompanied by several other symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disorders, headache, muscle stiffness, heightened sensitivity to pain and pressure, tingling and numbness of the hands and feet, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibro fog – the term used to describe a fibromyalgia patient’s concentration and memory problems. Symptoms may vary, which makes it almost impossible to diagnose.
Fibromyalgia predominantly affects women, about 80 to 90%, although men and children can have the condition as well. It has been estimated that 5 million Americans are affected, usually aged 18 and above. Diagnoses are commonly established during middle age, between the ages of 30 and 55. Fibromyalgia can be depressing and debilitating, that is why it is important to have the tools to get relief and manage this condition.
2 Unknown Causes, Contributing Factors
The real cause is said to be unknown, but there are theories about the contributing factors leading to the condition. Genetic predisposition is likely to blame, as well as infectious diseases, hormonal disturbances, emotional stressors and physical trauma among others, all of which leading to the abnormal processing of pain signals. It is also associated with the decreased levels of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter, which causes increased sensitivity to pain and lower pain threshold.
3 Blood Test and Physical Examination
Fibromyalgia, which is characterized by chronic muscle pain that is widespread, is difficult to diagnose due to the symptoms’ resemblance to other diseases such as various forms of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, and deficiency of vitamin D.
Recently, a new blood test to diagnose fibromyalgia has been introduced. It is called the FM/a test, and it measures the proteins in the body that lessen pain, which is not produced in normal quantities by patients with fibromyalgia. The test, however, costs around $700 which makes it a lesser method of choice in diagnosing fibromyalgia. Because of this, for accurate diagnosis, the doctors often rely on physical examination, assessment of symptoms, and ruling out of other diseases that fibromyalgia resembles. They have established general criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia, which includes widespread pain being experienced in all four quadrants of the body for at least three months, and 11 out of 18 specific tender points.
4 Pain Management
As mentioned earlier, there is still no known cure for fibromyalgia. Treatment is given to control and alleviate the symptoms by using pain medications and drugs to improve sleep. Medications, depending on the severity of the symptoms, may include one or a combination of drugs such as common pain relievers, muscle relaxants, anti-depressants, anti-seizure drugs, and even certain drugs for Parkinson’s disease.
Aside from these medications, treatment also involves exercises such as walking or swimming, which help in controlling fibromyalgia pain and improving sleep. Meditation or deep-breathing exercises reduce stress, which can also trigger pain.
5 Coping with Fibromyalgia
The widespread, chronic muscle pain and fatigue that patients with fibromyalgia experience may limit their day to day activities such as working, participating in hobbies, and taking care of the family. The purpose of the treatment is to decrease the symptoms, and to help the patients function better in their jobs, family, and community. Behavioural therapy may also be helpful in managing stress, anger, and anxieties which may result to or may stem from fibromyalgia symptoms. But the most important thing is to have that support group, to be able to cope with fibromyalgia, and live life to the fullest.