Fibromyalgia – A Common Problem
Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal condition that is very easily misdiagnosed, and as a result is often misunderstood by many who hold only a loose familiarity with it. Its defining characteristics include muscle and joint pain that is widespread, as well as fatigue. It’s a debilitating condition and is the most common musculoskeletal condition after osteoarthritis, so a better understanding and familiarity with it and its symptoms are becoming more and more necessary as its prevalence rises across society.
Simply put, fibromyalgia is a disease that causes aches and pains throughout different tender points around the body. It comes with many associated symptoms so can look different from individual to individual depending on which symptoms have reared their head in that particular case.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia include…
Trouble getting to sleep
Stiffness first thing in the morning throughout the body
Headaches brought on by the syndrome
Menstrual pains which are heightened during periods
Tingling or numbness in the hands and/or feet
Cognitive or memory problems, which is often referred to as ‘fibro fog’ in shorthand
Restless legs syndrome
A sensitivity to varying temperatures
Increased sensitivity to both bright lights and loud noises
Sadly, this is a syndrome that is quite common, currently affecting up to 5 million Americans over the age of 18. Interestingly, the majority of people who have fibromyalgia are women, with rates at 80-90% of total sufferers. It’s a disease that is most commonly diagnosed during middle age but can occur in younger people.
Causes and occurrences
It’s a disease that can occur on its own but is often more commonly found in people who already have other types of diseases including lupus, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. There is some proof that it may have genetic ties, as those whose relatives have fibromyalgia have an increased likelihood of developing it.
Unfortunately, the causes of fibromyalgia are still unknown, although researchers are actively looking for the root in order to better understand treatment methods. Many factors have been proven to be involved in the development of it, including…
Repetitive injuries, caused by performing the same action many times over
Previously occurring illnesses or infections
Involvement in car accidents (stress and trauma related)
Having a family history of the disease
In some cases, the stress of being sent to war was found as a common root contributing to its development
Sadly, given fibromyalgia’s symptoms that can present as resulting from other causes and diseases, many people will often visit a number of doctors before they are correctly diagnosed. One reason this happens is because simple pain and fatigue can be symptoms of a wide range of different diseases and illnesses and are linked to many medical conditions, therefore, fibromyalgia is not necessarily the first thing a doctor considers when evaluating a patient’s current symptoms and medical history. Fibromyalgia cannot be discovered and diagnosed through simple lab tests, so by its very nature, doctors must undergo a number of rigorous tests in order to rule out any other possible causes of fibromyalgia’s symptoms. This can lead to a lengthy and involved journey before the patient is able to receive the correct diagnosis and move forward with the information they need to do what they can to minimize their symptoms.
A medical professional who is familiar with fibromyalgia will be able to make a diagnosis based on two simple and clear criteria…
If a patient has a history of pain that is widespread and has lasted over three months, they may be closer to being able to diagnose correctly. In order for pain symptoms to qualify as ‘widespread pain’, the pain itself must have appeared not only on both the left and right hand sides of the body, but both above and below the patient’s waist, and must have lasted for over three months chronologically.
Tender points present throughout the body – in order for a point to count as tender, the patient must feel pain as the result of pressure that is applied to the tender point. The body possesses a possible 18 tender points, of which 11 will need to be present for a patient to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Whilst pain might occur in other parts of the body, it’s these 18 specific points that are used to diagnose correctly and finally.
Treatments for fibromyalgia
Because of its very nature, fibromyalgia is currently difficult to treat. The first place to begin is by ensuring your doctor has a previous history of treating fibromyalgia, as this is a syndrome which requires familiarity with its specific ins and outs in comparison to other closely related, but differing, conditions. You want to ensure the doctor who will be working closely with you to alleviate your symptoms has been down this road before with positive results. However, most family doctors will be equipped to work with you in treating fibromyalgia, so once you’ve been diagnosed, just make sure to ask your doctor about their history in order to confirm you’re working with the best medical professionals for your particular needs.
Treatment for fibromyalgia often involves medical experts from different feeds, including rheumatologists, who are doctors who specifically treat arthritis and conditions that have an impact on joints. You may also find yourself working with a physical therapist in order to alleviate certain symptoms.
Treatment options for fibromyalgia include:
The management of pain – there are a number of medicines approved by the FDA to treat fibromyalgia, including pregabalin, duloxetine, and milnacipran. Currently, there are more medications in development as researchers and doctors continue to understand more about fibromyalgia and the options that exist for its treatment. You may find your doctor also advises the use of low-dose antidepressants, as depression is a common side effect associated with fibromyalgia.
Sleep management – as simple as it sounds, getting a great night’s sleep is incredibly important for individuals with fibromyalgia. Sleeping well and for long enough can assist in improving symptoms. In order to naturally help your body improve its symptoms through sleep management, it’s important to set positive sleep habits, including going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. This helps your body to settle into a routine and can be an easy way to guarantee your sleep needs are being met without drastic intervention. Other options including avoiding both caffeine and alcohol from late afternoon onwards, as these two things can be detrimental when it comes to falling asleep on time. Regular exercise can also improve the quality of your sleep, as your body is naturally more worn out and ready for a solid rest to get some much-needed replenishment. However, it’s best to avoid exercising within a 3-hour window of the time you’ve set as your consistent bedtime, as exercise has a stimulating effect and can, in fact, keep you awake instead if performed too closely to bedtime.
Another tip to keep in mind is the avoidance of daytime naps, as a sleep in the afternoon can lead to problems falling asleep at night. If you find you must have a nap during the daytime, don’t allow yourself to sleep for more than one hour, which can be achieved by setting an alarm to ensure you’re up and about after a maximum of sixty minutes of rest.
Some people find that they have not been protecting their bed as a place for rest and instead have been working, reading or watching TV in bed far too often. This has a stimulating effect and causes your brain to subconsciously connect ‘bed’ with activities other than sleep. If you’re struggling to fall asleep at night, limit the amount of things you do in bed aside from sleeping to protect this sacred and personal space.
Psychological support – One of the most challenging elements of fibromyalgia is the mental effect that living with a chronic condition can have on each individual. It’s a tough diagnosis to receive when there’s no immediate or final cure, and instead, something which has to be managed on a daily basis. There is counseling available for those diagnosed with fibromyalgia in order to equip them with mental tools which allow them to continue to function at their healthiest possible mental capacity, even during their treatment.
If you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, prioritize finding yourself a support group who can help with the mental journey that will accompany the physical journey. You may also find it useful to undergo counseling sessions with specifically trained professionals who can help to improve your knowledge and familiarity with the illness and with what it involves.
Complementary therapies – There is a wide range of complementary therapies available which can work alongside the prescribed medicine and counseling sessions to create a holistic approach to minimizing your fibromyalgia symptoms. These include specific types of massage, water therapy, acupressure, physical therapy as prescribed by a trained physical therapist, yoga, relaxation exercises, specific breathing techniques, aromatherapy and even certain herbs which can help in alleviating symptoms. It’s key to discuss these with your doctor, as they’ll be able to ensure your approach is taking every tool into account for the best overall outcome.
There are some simple changes those with fibromyalgia can make in order to help themselves feel the best they can. One of the areas to examine is their requirements and commitments at work. Many people need to make large changes in their day-to-day tasks and activities once diagnosed, and this includes in the workplace.
If you have a job that requires manual labor, you may need to cut down on the amount of hours you work or switch to a role that is less physically demanding. Even simple things such as an uncomfortable desk chair which encourages your pain are worth addressing. Small changes can lead to big results that will take the pressure off your body on a day-to-day basis. Occupational therapists are trained to evaluate work situations to look for areas that might cause pain or tension, so consulting an expert is a great way to ensure you’ve set up your work environment for minimal impact on your fibromyalgia.
Another area that can be addressed immediately is that of diet. There isn’t a specific diet which is prescribed to those with fibromyalgia, but many people who suffer from the syndrome have found they do indeed feel better when eating certain foods and avoiding others. By engaging in further research, you will be able to identify parts of your diet that may be causing your fibromyalgia to cause more pain.
Fibromyalgia over time
Given its nature as a chronic condition, it’s very common for fibromyalgia to last a lifetime. However, small comfort is found in the fact that fibromyalgia is not a disease which is fatal or progressive. It’s a disease that does not normally worsen over time, and instead, its symptoms can be minimized with expert and natural treatment.
Many people often confuse chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, and although they share symptoms, they are indeed slightly different syndromes. Some people may have both, with CFS exhibiting a more extreme symptom of intense tiredness, which often looks at first like flu-like symptoms.
If you’re unsure as to which syndrome your body may be exhibiting symptoms of, the best thing to do is to approach a medical professional and allow them to take you through full testing.
At the end of the day, all you can do is take control of your health by actively engaging with medical and holistic health professionals to equip yourself for the healing journey ahead. Stay calm, stay focused and look for the answers you need in order to tackle fibromyalgia head on and reduce the effect it has on your everyday health. There is a wide range of treatments available to ease the pain, and more research is being conducted into this area with the hopes of finding a permanent treatment.