Fibromyalgia (fye-bro-mye-AL-ja) is a chronic disorder that causes unexplained aches and pains throughout the body. Although the symptoms sound like an arthritic condition, it is not a form of arthritis as it does not cause inflammation or damage to the joints. However, fibromyalgia can interfere with a person’s ability to participate in daily activities.
More widespread and common then once believed, fibromyalgia affects an estimated 5 million Americans over 18 years of age. Although the condition can affect men and even children, it is far more common in women, who account for an estimated 80-90% of cases. Those with rheumatic and chronic pain diseases (lupus, arthritis etc.) may be more likely to suffer from fibromyalgia. It may be more likely to occur in women who have a relative with the disorder too, though more studies are needed to determine this link.
Many experts say that the fibromyalgia symptoms in women are different to the fibromyalgia symptoms in men, but that is not a fact that has been proven, at least no yet. Sufferers of fibromyalgia experience tender points, known as “trigger points”, areas of the body where pressure, even a light touch, triggers pain.
In addition a cluster of other physical and mental symptoms are commonly shared, including: fatigue, headaches, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, memory problems (sometimes referred to as “fibro fog”), morning stiffness, irritable bowel syndrome, increased sensitivity to temperatures, loud noises and bright lights, painful menstrual periods and tingling or numbness of the extremities. Understandably, these symptoms cause a great disruption in normal daily activities and depression is also often noted in fibromyalgia patients.
The exact cause is unknown though the onset of fibromyalgia can often be linked to extreme stress, other illnesses, trauma, serious or repetitive injuries. Researchers are examining causes, including the possibility of how certain genes may regulate pain or how ones central nervous system could process pain differently resulting in some people being more susceptible to fibromyalgia.
Treatment and Outlook
Treatment for fibromyalgia: Though more widely accepted and known now then previously, fibromyalgia still has some stigma attached to it as the symptoms and causes are subjective and vague at times. With no diagnostic test to prove a diagnosis, this has led some to assume sufferers are faking an illness or that it is less debilitating than it is.
This can lead to a difficulty in being diagnosed or finding treatment. It is important to find a doctor who has experience in treating fibromyalgia. A multi-treatment approach seems to help most patients best: painkillers if necessary may be prescribed by a doctor, physical therapy and also behavioral therapy to help limit stress triggers and deal with the depression that can accompany fibromyalgia.
Support groups for fibro patients can be very helpful in learning how to live with the condition. It is a chronic condition, which unfortunately means it lasts for quite some time, however it is not fatal and for many people it does improve over time.