What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes fatigue, as well as widespread pain and tenderness in the muscles, ligaments and tendons. People with fibromyalgia have specific tender points on their bodies that are particularly sensitive when pressure is applied. Fibromyalgia is also associated with sleep problems, headaches and trouble concentrating. Women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia, as are people between 40 and 60 years old.
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, although research has linked it to various factors. Because fibromyalgia typically runs in families, genetics may play a role. And because stress can cause pain virtually anywhere in the body, physical and/or emotional trauma, including illness, injury and traumatic events, have been linked to its development. Certain infections may also make people more susceptible to fibromyalgia.
Other research has indicated that fibromyalgia sufferers have lower pain thresholds because of increased sensitivity to pain signals within the brain. The brain's pain receptors may change over time to become more sensitive, causing them to overreact to normal pain signals. Patients with rheumatic diseases such as arthritis or lupus may also be at an increased risk for developing fibromyalgia.
Patients with fibromyalgia typically experience constant, dull muscle aches, as well as pain, when pressure is applied, to certain tender areas, including the upper chest, inner knees or upper shoulders. Another common symptom of fibromyalgia is constant fatigue, even after getting a full night's sleep. Additional symptoms of fibromyalgia include the following:
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Memory problems
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Morning stiffness
- Painful menstrual periods
- Restless-leg syndrome
The symptoms of fibromyalgia vary depending on certain factors, including the time of day and the weather. How much stress a person is under and how much physical activity he or she gets are also factors. Patients with fibromyalgia often also suffer from other conditions, including the following:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Interstitial cystitis
Fibromyalgia patients are also subject to temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
Fibromyalgia is often difficult to diagnose because its symptoms mimic those of other conditions, and there is no specific test to diagnose it. A doctor may be able to diagnose fibromyalgia by reviewing symptoms and performing a full physical examination. Blood tests, urinalysis and imaging tests may also be performed to rule out other conditions that might be causing pain.
Treatment for fibromyalgia varies, and aims to relieve symptoms and improve overall health. There is no definitive treatment for fibromyalgia; most patients benefit from using a combination of methods. Medication is typically prescribed to reduce pain and improve sleep, and includes the following:
- Anti-seizure medications
Physical therapy is often recommended, because certain exercises have been shown to reduce pain. Fibromyalgia is often triggered by stress, so cognitive behavioral therapy, by providing patients with coping strategies, is helpful. Although fibromyalgia does not usually worsen over time or lead to life-threatening complications, it can result in significant pain, depression and lack of sleep. It also affects the ability to work and maintain close family or personal relationships. People with fibromyalgia should strive to maintain active, healthy, stress-free lifestyles in order to manage its symptoms and improve quality of life.
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