Fibromyalgia is a medical condition that results in serious harm to patients in both physical and mental forms. It is characterized by chronic pain, stiffness, and tenderness of muscles, tendons, and joints. In some cases, the onset of fibromyalgia symptoms begins after a physically or emotionally traumatic event, such as a car accident; in other cases, symptoms start insidiously, gradually worsening over time.
Generally described as widespread pain, people living with fibromyalgia may also have increased sensitivity to pain, fatigue, muscle stiffness, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and irritable bowel syndrome (a digestive condition that causes stomach pain and bloating). Fibromyalgia also commonly co-exists with other chronic pain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and osteoarthritis, with between 10-30% of people with rheumatic disorders also meeting the criteria for the condition.
Causes & Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Currently, the exact cause of fibromyalgia is unclear, although, there appears to be both genetic and environmental links. There are a number of factors that seem to increase the chance of an individual developing this condition including:
- Autoimmune conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis, lupus, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Stressful or traumatic events such as car accidents, or post-traumatic disorder (PTSD)
- Patients who are overweight have a higher chance of developing fibromyalgia.
- Other central sensitivity syndromes such as chronic fatigue syndrome or IBS.
- Previously diagnosed pain syndromes.
- A family history of fibromyalgia.
- Substance abuse.
- Continuous pain caused by injury or trauma.
- Depression or prolonged emotional stress.
- Repetitive injuries such as frequent knee bending can be considered as a repetitive stress injury.
These significant factors can lead to the development of changes in the central nervous system, altering the way a person perceives different sensory inputs. Although fibromyalgia is chronic and cannot be cured, most patients with this condition experience moments of remission as well as flare-ups during which time the pain becomes highly intense. These flare-ups can be triggered by a number of different factors, including:
- Changes in the weather or temperature.
- Altered treatment or medication for dealing with fibromyalgia or other conditions.
- Changes in hormones due to natural cycles, as well as changes in pregnancy.
- Exhaustion or overexertion
- Emotional or mental stress
- Viral or bacterial infections
Due to the fact that the symptoms of fibromyalgia are common to a number of other conditions, it can be very difficult to diagnose, potentially making any diagnosis of fibromyalgia both lengthy and frustrating. However, diagnosis is normally performed by a doctor or rheumatologist after ruling out other diagnoses.
Although fibromyalgia symptoms can differ between people, certain core symptoms must be established for the condition to be considered as a diagnosis. Some of these tests can help provide enough support for a fibromyalgia diagnosis, while others are performed to rule out other types of conditions:
The doctor will begin the diagnosis by asking specific details about pain and/or other symptoms over time. They will most likely ask about family medical history and other possible exposure to certain toxins or viral infections. These types of questions will help the doctor assess any risk factors that may strengthen the suspicion of fibromyalgia or rule out other conditions.
The doctor will carefully examine the patient, observing any tender points of the body and any other source linked to the pain. The results of a physical exam may help suggest fibromyalgia or any other condition.
Blood tests cannot prove fibromyalgia accurately, however, they can help discover other conditions that are currently in development inside a patient’s body. For example, hypothyroid tests will show severely low levels of thyroid hormones. Most autoimmune conditions will show a drastic amount of high levels of inflammatory proteins and autoantibodies or proteins created by the immune system that attack the body’s tissues. If all blood tests are normal, a diagnostic result of fibromyalgia is likely possible.
If in case the doctor suspects a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, they may use an equipment such as an X-ray, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to help observe any damage to joints.
Who Gets Fibromyalgia?
The risk of fibromyalgia increases with age. Many patients who are diagnosed with this condition develop symptoms for the first time in their middle years, though fibromyalgia can strike at any age (even children). Women are more likely to develop this condition than men. In fact, 80%-90% of people living with fibromyalgia are women.
Other conditions that become more common with age, such as arthritis, can mimic the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Some patients over 60 may even get misdiagnosed with either rheumatoid arthritis or polymyalgia rheumatica.
In some cases, it is also quite unclear whether sleep disturbances are a cause of fibromyalgia, but people with certain sleep disorders can also have a chance of developing this condition. There are other possible factors that may have been associated with this condition, but it is not entirely clear. These factors include:
How Does Fibromyalgia Affect You? How Serious is it?
A high quantity of patients who deal with stress throughout a consecutive amount of days or weeks or even months have been linked to developing fibromyalgia. A person who has experienced some sort of abuse through both childhood or adulthood years may be develop a minor increase in fibromyalgia. Having an unhealthy lifestyle such as like smoking, and inactivity can increase the risk of developing the condition, this can target any individual.
An impaired amount of sleep can also be a trigger associated with this condition. Or even a long duration between 10 to 12 hours of sleep consecutively can be the wakening sign of fibromyalgia.
Common causes associated with fibromyalgia could also link to headaches, myoclonic twitches, and symptomatic low blood sugar. If any individual experiences drastic low blood sugar, seek medical attention. Another rare cause that is associated with fibromyalgia is short-term and long-term memory loss and short-term memory consolidation.
Besides the short-term memory loss taking place, fibromyalgia can also interrupt one’s speed performance impairing it abnormally. Similar to fatigue, this may also include an inability to multi-task, cognitive overload, and a sense of diminished attention span. Most patients commonly claim to have dealt with myofascial pain while also having a drastically increased rate of comorbid temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
These rates continue to increase annually, although while these causes are mentioned above, the pain appears to be processed within the nervous system leading to the condition known as “central sensitization syndrome”. Certain factors involving fibromyalgia include psychological stress, trauma, and a few varieties of infections that can be located elsewhere in the human body.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation for Fibromyalgia
For most patients, medicine alone is not enough to help reduce fibromyalgia. In order to facilitate the best outcome, it is important to take a more holistic route. However, the following medicines may provide pain relief in people who are living with this condition:
These can help with fibromyalgia symptoms and mood disorders. Patients with this illness do not have to experience depression to benefit from antidepressants. The levels of neurotransmitters are raised through the use of these types of drugs which can help with the pain. The two most commonly used antidepressants for fibromyalgia patients are Cymbalta and Common side effects include dry mouth, weight gain, drowsiness, and nausea.
Also known as anticonvulsants or anti-seizure medicine, research has shown that anti-epileptics can reduce pain attributed to fibromyalgia. Pregabalin (Lyrica) and gabapentin are some of the most common anti-seizure medicines used to help treat fibromyalgia. Anticonvulsants may also lead to change in weight, drowsiness, and oedema.
For fibromyalgia pain relief, over-the-counter medicines could aid patients. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin may decrease the pain of fibromyalgia. In some cases, opioids may also be prescribed. However, these are addictive so it is important to discuss the risks with a specialist and consider other helpful treatment options before proceeding.
These are most often prescribed to improve sleep and to relieve muscle spasms in fibromyalgia patients. They may also help relieve pain and fatigue as well.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment
There are plenty of small lifestyle changes you can make that have a big impact in chronic pain and other fibromyalgia symptoms mentioned earlier. Some certain lifestyle changes may help reduce some of your symptoms. These can include:
- Exercise – Many patients with fibromyalgia find that exercise can help improve their pain levels and mood, as well as improve their sleep. This is one of the best ways to relieve any fibromyalgia symptoms. Exercising increases energy, releases endorphins, strengthens muscles, and helps promote better sleeping habits. You may notice that you feel very tired over a period of time of exercising, so it is important to pace yourself regularly. You can begin by walking short distances, even for just 10 simple minutes. Afterward, you can build up to walking for a longer amount of time. It’s also important to do chores around the house slowly.
- Meditation – Having an increased stress level can make pain and other fibromyalgia symptoms a lot more worse. Relaxation techniques, such as mediation and deep breathing, can help reduce any symptom that is linked to the condition.
- Massage therapy – Regular massage sessions can ease fibromyalgia-related pain, therefore massage is also effective at decreasing stiffness and swelling, increasing flexibility, and improving range of motion.
- Improving sleep – While this is much easier said than done, sleep can help greatly in mood and pain regulation. Many patients living with fibromyalgia usually experience a lack of sleep, and when this occurs, many of them do not feel well-rested. However, getting a good quality of sleep helps you feel at your best and can also help reduce any of the condition’s pain. Try to sleep at least 8 hours on a regular nightly basis. To increase the chances of a healthy sleep, you can perform deep breathing and quick meditation exercises beforehand.
- Eat more healthy, nutritious foods – Understanding how important it is to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; living with fibromyalgia, pay attention to what you eat on a regular daily basis. In fact, some foods, such as caffeine and highly processed foods, can increase the risks of developing any of the risk factors regarding fibromyalgia.