Fibromyalgia is a disorder that affects the muscles and soft tissue and causes chronic pain and fatigue. It’s characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain that is joined by extreme fatigue, excessive sleep, and memory and mood issues. While the origins of fibromyalgia aren’t clear, they may be related to a physical injury, a serious emotional or psychological traumatic event. In some cases, ongoing symptoms may accumulate over time without any notable injury or event.
At this time, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia but many have experienced a reduction in symptoms through exercise, nutrition and stress-reduction.
Warning Signs & Symptoms
Ongoing and all-over body pain is the primary symptom of fibromyalgia, along with deep muscle pain and morning stiffness. These are usually accompanied by a range of other common symptoms including:
- Concentration and memory issues
- Depression and moodiness
- Frequent fatigue
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Painful menstrual cramps
- Problems sleeping
- Tingling and numbness in arms, hands, legs and feet
- Tender, painful points in the body
- Frequent or painful urination
Risk Factors & Possible Causes
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, however common risk factors are genetic predisposition, pre-existing conditions, illness and trauma.
Tests to Diagnose Fibromyalgia
A fibromyalgia diagnosis is not simple, and on average, takes around two years to determine.
Its primary characteristic is chronic, widespread pain that lasts for at least three months, is present above and below the waist as well as on both sides of the body. Other common indicators are hyperalgesia (experiencing increased pain in response to a normally painful contact), and allodynia (experiencing a pain response to a typically non-painful contact).
Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms often mimic other medical issues that must first be ruled out before fibromyalgia is determined. Other reasons diagnosis may be difficult may be because the associated chronic pain presents itself differently in different people, thus requiring a wider understanding of a patient’s medical history and daily cognitive and physical experiences over a period of time.
The path to diagnosis depends on the patient’s medical history, areas of pain and tenderness, and lifestyle and psychological factors. Approaches to patient testing and treatment don’t necessarily look the same.
Treatments for fibromyalgia are typically determined on a case-by-case basis, often require trial and error, and tend to be multidisciplinary. Nearly all approaches include combinations of medications, alternative therapies, lifestyle changes and self-care to reduce stress and manage pain.
Doctors may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes to help with alleviating chronic pain and fatigue, and lessen triggers that agitate other fibromyalgia symptoms. These may include:
- Regular exercise is key to reducing pain, stress, and depression
- Physical therapy may help to relax tense muscles and loosen stiff joints
- Mediation, acupuncture and massage are common alternative remedies
- Counseling and support groups often help with feelings of isolation and managing PTSD (commonly experienced by fibromyalgia sufferers)
- Herbs and supplements, such as Chinese herbs, 5-HTP, melatonin, and SAM-e
Sleep Studies may help in determining treatable sleep patterns that lead to more fatigue and worsening pain.