What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic (long-lasting) disorder characterized by widespread pain and hypersensitivity of muscles and joints. The associated fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues can interfere with one’s ability to perform ordinary activities. Fibromyalgia is a rheumatic condition (impairs joints and/or soft tissues). It differs from arthritis because it does not cause inflammation damage to the joints. Though the onset of fibromyalgia may be linked to an injury, often there is no identifiable triggering event.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with orthopedic conditions and the diagnosis, treatment and management of fibromyalgia. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Fibromyalgia is frequently misunderstood because the widespread pain and fatigue associated with the condition can be attributed to many other diseases. Signs of fibromyalgia may include:
- Pain throughout the body that has lasted for at least three months
- Painful “trigger points” (places on the body that hurt despite medication)
- Chronic fatigue
- Cognitive and memory problems (sometimes referred to as “fibro fog”)
- Muscle twitch
- Overworked or pulled muscle sensation, despite not having worked out
- Sleep disruption
- Chronic headaches
- Memory and mood issues
Fibromyalgia is more common in women than men though some men are diagnosed with this disorder. Symptoms can differ between the sexes. Women have reported a greater incidence of pain, tenderness, and fatigue, along with related conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome. On the other hand, men appear to have more problems with sleep disorders. Reports of pain severity, anxiety, and depression are similar in both sexes.
If fibromyalgia is suspected, a physical examination including specific questions about symptoms helps determine possible diagnosis. While no one test can confirm fibromyalgia, a doctor may perform tests to rule out other conditions that may cause symptoms similar to those of fibromyalgia.
Until recently, fibromyalgia was diagnosed through the use of tender points. A physician would apply pressure to 18 different spots of the body and record the level of pain associated with each one. This method has been superseded by a new diagnostic that emphasizes the presence of body-wide pain. If the patient has experienced widespread pain continuously for three months or more with no other medical cause, he or she is considered fibromyalgic.
These tests can include:
Blood test: Blood tests can be used to rule out other potential causes of the pain and other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.
Kidney and liver tests: Kidney and liver tests check blood chemistries, including cholesterol and calcium levels.
Thyroid test: A thyroid test determines if the thyroid is overactive or underactive.
Research suggests that fibromyalgia pain is caused by a glitch in the way the body processes pain. This malfunction results in a hypersensitivity to stimuli that normally are not painful. Research has also shown that people with fibromyalgia have reduced blood flow to parts of the brain that normally help the body deal with pain.
Fibromyalgia Risk Factors
Risk factors that can contribute to fibromyalgia include:
Gender: For unknown reasons, between 80 and 90 percent of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women.
Family history: Those who have a relative with fibromyalgia are more likely to have the condition.
Rheumatic disease: Those with a rheumatic disease (one of many painful medical conditions which affect joints, bones and muscles such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus), may be more likely to develop fibromyalgia.
There is no preventing fibromyalgia but there are steps you can take to reduce its frequency and severity. Fibromyalgia patients typically focus on avoiding flareups – periods of intensified symptoms – rather than masking the symptoms altogether. Healthy habits such as these can help:
- Eliminate psychological stressors from your life.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Eat a nutritious diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Pace yourself in work and play.
- Monitor your symptoms, looking for clues as to what triggers flareups.
Fibromyalgia Diagnosis and Prognosis
Fibromyalgia symptoms can run the spectrum from mild to disabling. Therefore, a treatment plan must be tailored to the individual and may include several treatment modalities such as medication, physical therapy or mental health support.
Fibromyalgia Treatment and Recovery
Fibromyalgia is a chronic, lifelong condition with no single or complete cure. Treatment usually involves a multidisciplinary approach that not only relieves pain and symptoms, but also changes the person’s attitude about their disease and teaches them behaviors that help them cope. Left untreated, fibromyalgia can worsen, largely due to its link with depression. Though fibromyalgia isn’t curable, the development of coping skills can lessen its impact on your life. The main treatment approaches for fibromyalgia may include:
Medication may be prescribed to help improve pain tolerance, ease anxiety and improve sleep.
Alternative and Complementary Therapies
Alternative and complementary therapies can include support groups, exercise, acupuncture, chiropractic and massage therapy.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Cognitive behavior therapy is a type of treatment that is focused on understanding how thoughts and behaviors affect pain and other symptoms, and may include stress reduction techniques, coping skills, meditation and mindfulness.
Fibromyalgia patients should maintain a healthy diet low in animal fat and high in fiber, and include plenty of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and walnuts have anti-inflammatory properties and may be beneficial as well.
Complications of fibromyalgia may include:
Pain: Fibromyalgia causes widespread muscle and joint pain which involves both sides of the body, above and below the waist, and along the length of the spine, when no other cause can be identified.
Fatigue: The persistent pain often results in insomnia or unrefreshing sleep – which may lead to the inability to concentrate.
Depression: Negative feelings can run the spectrum from general malaise and frustration, to feelings of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts.
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