Fibromyalgia: A Mysterious Yet Common Condition
Given the prevalence of fibromyalgia cases in the U.S. – approximately 10 million people officially diagnosed – the disorder still remains something of a mystery to medical science.
Fibromyalgia causes pain throughout the body, usually manifesting as “regions of pain”, many of which overlap with specific areas of tenderness referred to as “trigger points”. The quality of the pain could be described as a dull ache.
Fatigue is another common symptom of fibromyalgia. This is one of the most disabling symptoms, as it is typically a full-body exhaustion that can leave one feeling incapable of performing routine daily activities.
With the fatigue of fibromyalgia comes what many call brain fog or fibro fog. Those with fibromyalgia complain of a lack of mental clarity, the inability to focus, and memory problems.
Stiffness of the musculoskeletal system is also common. This stiffness is usually worse in the morning and tends to correlate with pain regions.
Finally, most people with fibromyalgia experience non-restorative sleep; they can sleep 8-10 hours and still feel tired.
Fibromyalgia’s exact origins are still unknown, although we can pinpoint some common factors that correlate with its development.
- Physically or emotionally stressful events
- Repetitive injuries
- Other kinds of illnesses such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or other autoimmune diseases
There are also cases in which fibromyalgia has developed seemingly on its own, with no other contributing factors to speak of.
Research into fibromyalgia is beginning to focus more on the central nervous system and how it processes pain. It is hypothesized that genetics can play a role in how individuals process pain, causing some to interpret signals as painful while others wouldn’t notice them at all. That said, this is still a hypothesis – the genes in question remain unknown, if they exist at all.
Diagnosing fibromyalgia is often done via process of elimination. If no other conditions could be responsible for the symptoms displayed by the patient, then fibromyalgia is often the diagnosis. A doctor cannot detect fibromyalgia via a blood test or X-ray, although these will likely play a role in your diagnosis as a means of ruling out other conditions.
People typically see a number of different doctors before officially receiving a diagnosis for fibromyalgia.
Treatment for fibromyalgia typically involves a combination of medication and therapy. There isn’t a single treatment option that works for all symptoms; healthcare specialists and pain doctors employ on-going treatments with the goal of reducing symptoms as much as possible and promoting overall health.
- Pain relievers. These could involve over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription medication like tramadol. Muscle relaxers may also be employed. Doctors typically avoid narcotics, as this quickly leads to addiction and can even make pain worse in the long run.
- Antidepressants. Savella and Cymbalta have yielded positive results for pain and fatigue.
- Anti-seizure medication. These can reduce certain kinds of pain caused by fibromyalgia. Examples include Gabapentin and Pregabalin.
- Physical therapy. Certain exercises can promote flexibility, improve strength, and increase stamina.
- Occupational therapy. Occupational therapists can help you readjust your lifestyle, your work area, and set plans in place that will help you perform daily tasks with less physical stress.