Fibromyalgia - A General, Yet Specific Diagnosis
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia usually confused with arthritis or joint inflammation because of their symptom similarities, is described by the CDC as “a condition that causes pain all over the body (also referred to as widespread pain), sleep problems, fatigue, and often emotional and mental distress.” It is believed that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations.
However, unlike arthritis, fibromyalgia does not cause joint or muscle inflammation and damage. It is identified as a rheumatic condition that causes soft tissue pain or myofascial pain.
It is difficult to understand this condition as it mimics symptoms of other conditions and there aren’t any tests that can confirm the diagnosis. Because of this, fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed.
About 4 million American adults are affected by fibromyalgia and most of these patients are women.
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown; however, it can be treated and managed.
Signs and Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia causes what is referred to as “regions of pain.” The pain felt within these regions is described as a consistent dull ache.
The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are:
Widespread pain (Pain and stiffness all over the body). This is described as a constant dull ache that usually lasts for approximately three months. To be considered widespread, the pain has to be on both sides of your body as well as above and below your waist.
Fatigue and tiredness. Individuals suffering from fibromyalgia often report waking tired even after long periods of sleep. The pain usually disrupts sleep, and a lot of patients with fibromyalgia suffer from other sleeping disorders like restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.
Cognitive difficulties (problems with thinking, memory, and concentration). This symptom of fibromyalgia is usually referred to as “fibro fog” because it impairs the ability to focus, pay attention, and concentrate on mental tasks.
Other symptoms include:
Depression and anxiety
Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
Pain in the face or jaw, including disorders of the jaw known as temporomandibular joint syndrome.
Digestive problems, such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and even irritable bowel syndrome.
Bladder problems, such as interstitial cystitis
Other possible symptoms:
Problems with vision
Cold or flu-like symptoms
It is unclear exactly what causes fibromyalgia, but researchers believe that it could be as a result of repeated nerve stimulation that causes the brain and spinal cord of people with fibromyalgia to change. As a result of this change, there is an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain. In addition, it is believed that it involves genetic disposition (hereditary characteristics) along with a trigger or triggers, such as an infection, trauma, and stress.
The likely factors that may lead to fibromyalgia:
Genetics. Fibromyalgia tends to run in families, as a result, it is believed that there may be a certain genetic mutation that may make you more susceptible to developing the disorder.
Infections. It appears that there are some illnesses that trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia.
Physical or emotional events. Physical events such as a car accident seem to trigger fibromyalgia as well as prolonged psychological stress.
Other risk factors that may trigger fibromyalgia include:
Rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases, such as lupus
The way in which our genes regulate how we process painful stimuli
There certain things that make you more predisposed to getting fibromyalgia and that includes:
People of all ages can be affected by fibromyalgia, including children; however, most people are diagnosed during middle age and it is more likely that you have fibromyalgia the older you get.
Lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
You are more likely to develop fibromyalgia if you have osteoarthritis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Other factors have been weakly associated with the onset of fibromyalgia which further research is needed to confirm. These factors include:
Sex. More women than men have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Illness (Such as viral infections)
How is Fibromyalgia diagnosed?
Because the symptoms resemble those of other conditions, it will take some time to confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. All other possible conditions must be ruled out by your doctor before diagnosing. To diagnose fibromyalgia, your doctor will check your medical history, perform physical examinations, do X-rays, and blood work.
The American College of Rheumatology has also established three criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia:
Pain and symptoms over the previous week, out of 19 identified body parts, plus levels of fatigue, unsatisfactory sleep, or cognitive problems.
Symptoms that have been ongoing for at least 3 months.
No presence of another health problem that would explain the symptoms.
Because Fibromyalgia can be difficult to manage, medical attention is necessary. The sign and symptoms can vary from patient to patient and this requires you to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and course of treatment to manage your pain.
Treatment may include a combination of the following:
Medications. Doctors will prescribe fibromyalgia medication to help manage pain and improve quality of life. These medications usually include:
Pain relievers (usually over-the-counter).
Antidepressants (such as duloxetine, or Cymbalta, and milnacipran, Salleva, may help reduce pain)
Antiseizure drugs (such as gabapentin, and pregabalin, or Lyrica).
It is advised that patients inform their doctors of any other medication that they are taking before taking any prescribed medication. This will help in avoiding side effects and interactions with other medications.
Along with the drugs prescribed by your doctor, he/she may also recommend the use of natural remedies such as:
A combination of aerobics exercise and resistance or strength training has been linked to reduced pain, tenderness, stiffness, and sleep disturbance, in some patients.
If it is evident that exercise is helping with the symptoms, it is important to maintain consistency in order to see progress. Get a workout partner or trainer to help keep the exercise program active.
Some patients have reported improved quality of life after starting acupuncture therapy for fibromyalgia. The symptoms and their severity will determine the number of sessions required.
Therapy can potentially reduce the stress that triggers fibromyalgia symptoms and depression. It may be a bit on the expensive side of treatment, but the group therapy option may be more affordable. This will allow you to meet other patients dealing with the same issues that you are.
Another form of therapy that may be recommended to help you manage stressful situations is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT aims to reduce negative, stress- or pain-increasing behaviors and improve positive mindful behaviors. It includes learning new coping skills and relaxation exercises.
Other natural remedies include:
Although not proven through research, it has been reported by some patients suffering from fibromyalgia that they felt better when following a specific diet plan or avoiding certain foods.
A balanced diet and proper nutrition are important in helping keep your body healthy and prevent symptoms from getting worse while also providing a constant energy supply.
Keep in mind these dietary strategies to help manage your symptoms:
Eat fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein.
Drink plenty of water
Eat more plants than meat
Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet
Exercise as often as you can
Work toward achieving and maintaining your healthy weight.
To help you create a diet that assists with managing your fibromyalgia symptoms, keep a diary and take note of what you eat and how it made you feel. Share that diary with your doctor to identify the foods that aggravate your symptoms and avoid these foods.