Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread muscle pain, tenderness, excessive fatigue, and poor cognition. The National Fibromyalgia Association reports that the condition affects an estimated 10 million Americans, with a ratio of nine women to one man.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
Evidence suggests that fibromyalgia is caused by abnormalities in pain processing within the central nervous system. These abnormalities may result from emotional or physical stress/trauma, recurrent injuries, autoimmune diseases, malfunction of the nervous system, and genetic factors.
Fibromyalgia is one of the most misdiagnosed chronic pain conditions. This is partly because its symptoms mimic other conditions, such as arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, and partly because there is no specific test for fibromyalgia.
The best way to diagnose fibromyalgia is through a process of elimination. This means your doctor will rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. To do this, your doctor will likely:
- Ask about your symptoms
- Review your medical history
- Perform a physical exam
- Order blood tests and body imaging studies like X-rays or MRI
If you meet the diagnosis criteria for fibromyalgia, your doctor may refer you to a pain specialist or rheumatologist for further evaluation and treatment.
Common Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The most common symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain. This pain is mainly described as a dull ache that can affect the entire body. The pain may be worse in certain areas, such as the neck, shoulders, back, or hips.
Fibromyalgia pain can vary from mild to moderate to severe and may come and go over time. In addition to widespread pain, people with fibromyalgia may also experience the following symptoms:
- Sleep problems
- Memory or concentration difficulties
- Mood swings
- Restless leg syndrome
- Muscle stiffness
- Constant headaches
- Tingling and numbness
Fibromyalgia VS Inflammation
Fibromyalgia is often confused with inflammation because it tends to co-exist with or mimic the symptoms of inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis. However, fibromyalgia is not the same thing as inflammation.
Inflammation is a response of the body’s immune system to injury or infection. It is characterized by redness, swelling, tenderness, and pain or a burning sensation in the affected areas. Fibromyalgia, on the other hand, is a chronic condition that causes pain throughout the body with no inflammation.
Unlike most inflammatory diseases, fibromyalgia is not a progressive condition and does not lead to muscle, joint, or organ degeneration. In some cases, the symptoms of fibromyalgia may improve over time.
Who is at Risk of Developing Fibromyalgia?
While anyone can develop fibromyalgia, people are more likely to develop the condition as they get older. Evidence also shows women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men. Other risk factors include recurrent injuries, nerve damage, genetic predisposition, mental illness, and sleep disorders.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life. Treatment for fibromyalgia often includes a combination of medication, psychological therapy, and exercises.
Your doctor may prescribe pain medication to help manage the pain and discomfort associated with fibromyalgia. Commonly prescribed medications include antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and over-the-counter pain relievers. These medications may also help improve the quality of sleep.
Living with a chronic pain condition like fibromyalgia can be frustrating and debilitating. It takes its toll on your emotional well-being and can result in depression and anxiety. Psychological therapy can help people with fibromyalgia cope with the emotional impact of the condition and manage daily stress.
Exercising regularly and maintaining an active lifestyle is an antidote for pain. Exercises can also help reduce stress, improve mood, promote better sleep, and improve body function. However, remember to stay within your pain limits and pace yourself. Pushing yourself too hard can make your symptoms worse.
Complementary therapies are also a common remedy for fibromyalgia. These therapies include acupuncture, aromatherapy, and soft tissue massage. Complementary therapies are not meant to replace conventional medical treatment but may be used in addition to other treatments to relieve symptoms.
The Bottom Line
If you think you may have fibromyalgia, it is vital to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. With the right combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes, many people with fibromyalgia can live symptom-free lives.