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What Should People Know About Fibromyalgia?

Apr 27, 2018

In the United States, approximately 4 million adults have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition is characterized by abnormal pain perception processing. This can cause intense pain without an easily identifiable or obvious cause, such as an acute injury.

The exact cause of this condition remains unknown. However, researchers believe that there may be a genetic component that could increase a person’s susceptibility of developing fibromyalgia. In many cases, there seems to be a triggering event before someone starts to experience symptoms. For example, the onset might follow some type of traumatic injury or major illness, such as pneumonia.

One hypothesis being tested is that the nervous system of patients with fibromyalgia have an interpretive defect. This defect is thought to potentially be responsible for the abnormal pain perception. The pain associated with the condition is largely believed to be muscular in nature but originating as a result of nerve stimuli.

In addition to pain, patients might also experience unrelenting fatigue and cognitive issues, such as trouble paying attention, focusing and concentrating. It is common for fibromyalgia to occur along with other conditions that cause pain, such as:

  • Headaches, including migraines
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Interstitial cystitis

Six Common Questions About Fibromyalgia

1. How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

A: The old method of looking for 18 specific points of pain on the body is no longer used. Instead, doctors can make the diagnosis after ruling out other potential causes and confirming that the patient has had widespread pain for at least three months. No blood test can definitively confirm the diagnosis, but there are several typically done to rule out other conditions, including:

  • Complete blood count
  • Cyclic citrullinated peptide test
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • Rheumatoid factor

2. What Lifestyle Remedies Help Fibromyalgia?

A: In addition to medical treatments, there are certain lifestyle options that might benefit patients. Reducing stress is important since stress may intensify symptoms for many patients. Limit overexertion and use stress-busting techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing. Regular exercise is important. Initially, pain might worsen, but over time, it usually works to alleviate a patient’s symptoms. Getting sufficient sleep is also imperative since fatigue can worsen pain and the cognitive symptoms of fibromyalgia. Patients should also work to pace themselves and eat a healthy diet while limiting caffeine.

3. Is there a Cure for Fibromyalgia?

A: No cure has been found for fibromyalgia. However, there are treatments that may ease a patient’s symptoms enough to help them in being productive. Pain relievers are commonly used and generally include over-the-counter options. There are also prescription options for patients who do not get adequate relief from OTC options. Anti-seizure drugs may help since they work on the nervous system. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to patients to help ease the fatigue and pain associated with the condition. Occupational and physical therapy are also sometimes recommended.

4. What is the Pain with Fibromyalgia Like?

A: There are no boundaries with fibromyalgia pain. It can range from mild and annoying to completely disabling, depending on the patient. It is often described as deep aching, shooting, throbbing and stabbing. It is also common for patients to experience an intense burning pain in their muscles. The pain is often accompanied by stiffness, especially when waking in the morning. Using certain muscles more than usual may intensify the pain. When the pain is increased, patients also tend to feel completely drained of their energy.

5. What Might Aggravate Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

A: The pain and other symptoms can become quite severe for some patients. In many cases, there are factors that can make the pain and other symptoms worse. These vary among patients but are usually consistent for individuals. Over-exertion and insufficient sleep commonly worsen the symptoms of this condition. Repetitive use of certain muscles can also make them more fatigued and painful than usual. Other aggravating factors can include drafty or cold environments, stress, anxiety, weather changes, hormonal fluctuations, depression and infections.

6. What is the Prognosis for Fibromyalgia?

A: It is estimated that approximately 25 percent of patients find their symptoms improve with time and another 25 percent experience a worsening of their symptoms with time. The other 50 percent of patients tend to have a steady severity of their symptoms. Those who develop other medical conditions as they get older, such as arthritis, may find that they experience more pain. It is important that any other conditions are treated appropriately and as soon as symptoms begin to reduce their impact on a patient’s fibromyalgia symptoms.

This information gives you the basic information concerning fibromyalgia. Work with your doctor for more detailed information and to learn about which treatment options may benefit you the most.

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