Fibromyalgia is a mysterious disorder characterized by chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain combined with fatigue and issues with memory, mood, and sleep. Though fibromyalgia is a chronic illness for which there is no cure, treatment techniques can help ease the symptoms of the condition and improve quality of life.
While doctors don’t know exactly what causes fibromyalgia, they believe that it is caused by a difference in the way the brain processes pain signals. This anomaly may be triggered by genetic mutation, physical or emotional trauma, or infection, causing an abnormal increase in the neurotransmitters that process pain combined with increased sensitivity in the brain’s pain receptors. Fibromyalgia is much more common among women than men, as well as among those who also have a rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, and/or a family history of fibromyalgia.
The most characteristic manifestation of fibromyalgia is widespread musculoskeletal pain that affects the entire body. The condition also has a profound affect on sleep, with most people who have fibromyalgia experiencing some degree of fatigue or insomnia. The condition often coexists with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. Others experience cognitive symptoms, including a decreased ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate on mental tasks. Depression, headaches, and pain or cramping in the lower abdomen are also common symptoms.
This condition can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms mimic those of many other diseases. Doctors used to test for the condition using fibromyalgia tender points, applying pressure to 18 specific points on the body to check for pain. Today, a fibromyalgia diagnosis indicates widespread pain for more than three months with no underlying medical cause. Your doctor may also perform lab tests to rule out other conditions.
While there is no cure for this condition, a variety of medical treatments and lifestyle changes can provide fibromyalgia relief. Your doctor may recommend a combination of either over the counter or prescription pain medications, antidepressants to ease the pain and fatigue of the disease as well as to promote sleep, and antiseizure drugs, which can help relieve certain types of pain. Some people with fibromyalgia find that therapy helps them deal with the stress of the condition. You can also manage stress with deep breathing exercises or meditation. Strike a balance between allowing yourself to rest and becoming completely inactive. Make sure to get enough sleep each night, and practice good sleep hygiene. Exercise regularly, even if you can’t do much to start out. If necessary, a physical therapist can help prescribe exercises to do at home. Eat a healthy, nutritious diet, and limit caffeine intake. Some alternative therapies, like yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, and massage therapy, may also be beneficial.