What is fibromyalgia?
What is this condition, and how is it treated?You've been to the doctor more times than you can count. You've been poked, prodded and examined in every way imaginable. Your doctor has ruled out every other possible condition and has diagnosed you with fibromyalgia. You're left wondering: what is fibromyalgia?
The short and unwelcome answer is that no one knows. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome – a condition that is diagnosed when certain symptoms and conditions exist, every other possible cause has been ruled out, and there is no known cause. Fibromyalgia is more common in women than men. The symptoms of fibromyalgia can come and go throughout your lifetime, with flare-ups often triggered by stress, exhaustion and sometimes even by cold weather.
- Pain that is widespread. Doctors consider pain to be widespread when it occurs in both the top and bottom halves of the body, as well as on both the left and right sides.
- Pain in specific tender points. Doctors have identified 18 specific areas on the body that are tender in fibromyalgia patients. A patient with pain in 11 of these tender points fits the criteria for fibromyalgia, although pain may be present in fewer than 11 points in some patients.
- Other symptoms. Other symptoms can include fatigue, stiffness, headaches, trouble sleeping and painful menstrual periods. Anxiety and depression are often present, although they are probably a result, rather than one of the symptoms.
There is no known cure for fibromyalgia; however, there are certain ways that the symptoms can be managed to give you a better quality of life.
- Medication. Your doctor will prescribe a course of treatment for you, and this may include medication. Some types of medications that have been found to be helpful for fibromyalgia are muscle relaxants, anti-depressants, anticonvulsants and pain relievers.
- Exercise and physical therapy. The combination of exercise and physical therapy can help with painful muscle aches and also with sleep troubles.
- Plenty of rest. Since exhaustion can bring on a flare-up, it is essential that you get enough sleep.
- Stress reduction. Stress is another trigger; do whatever you can to reduce the stress in your life.
- Alternative treatments. Some patients with fibromyalgia have found help with their symptoms from massage, acupressure, acupuncture and herbal supplements. Check with your doctor before trying any alternative treatments.
- Watch out for anxiety and depression. People with fibromyalgia have a higher likelihood of becoming anxious or depressed. Watch for symptoms of depression: lack of interest in things they used to enjoy, changes in eating or sleeping habits, overwhelming feelings of sadness or shame, and trouble thinking and concentrating. See your doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms.