Fibromyalgia, known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is an illness or condition defined as having pain and stiffness throughout all areas of the body. These are called tender points, which hurt when pressure is put on them. Understanding the symptoms and potential causes of fibromyalgia can help both you and your doctor find the best course for treatment.
FMS is very common, yet often very misunderstood. There are doctors out there that don’t believe in fibromyalgia, and say that it is all psychosomatic, meaning the pain the patient is feeling is all in their minds. Regardless, fibromyalgia affects as many as five million Americans aged 18 and older. 80 to 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia are women. However, men and children also can have the disorder.
Most people are diagnosed during middle age, and an onset of fibromyalgia can occur by itself, but is more common among people with certain other diseases, such as types of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, or other conditions. Individuals who also have a family history with fibromyalgia are more likely to develop it themselves.
Diagnosis can be quite difficult because it often depends on classifying the symptoms correctly, and people with fibromyalgia often see many doctors before being properly diagnosed. One reason for this may be that pain and fatigue, the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, are also symptoms of many other conditions. Therefore, doctors must often rule out other possible causes of these symptoms before diagnosing FMS.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
While the main symptom of fibromyalgia is chronic pain, or chronic widespread pain, meaning pain that spreads throughout the body, a patient with fibromyalgia generally describes their symptoms as hurting all over, which often makes it hard to pinpoint the exact location of pain. Fibromyalgia pain is different for every person, and can flare up due to injury, disease, and stress. Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Insomnia (Sleep disturbances)
- Paresthesia (sensations of tingling, burning, tickling, or itching)
- Anxiety or depression
- Headache / migraines
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Gastrointestinal issues: excessive gas, constipation, and diarrhea
How is Fibromyalgia Treated?
Fibromyalgia can be hard to treat, as pain happens all over. It’s important to find a doctor who has treated others with fibromyalgia. Many family doctors, general internists, or rheumatologists can treat fibromyalgia. Rheumatologists are doctors who treat arthritis and other conditions that affect the joints and soft tissues. Therefore, treatment for FMS often requires a team approach. A pain or rheumatology clinic can be a good place to get treatment, especially when the pain starts to take center stage.
Since fibromyalgia cannot be detected with a physical exam, X-ray, or lab tests, the symptom that most often leads to the discovery of FMS are the tender point sites. As mentioned before, these tender point sites are specific areas of muscle, tendon, or other tissue that are painful when touched.
Doctors measure fibromyalgia tender points in one of two ways: by simply pressing the site with a finger or by using a method called dolorimetry. In the dolorimetry method, the doctor presses a rubber device into the tender point site with force. Patients are asked to say when they stop feeling pressure and start feeling pain.
To help reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia, patients can help by doing the following:
- Getting enough sleep: Getting enough sleep and the right kind of sleep can help ease the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia. Most adults need seven to eight hours of “restorative” sleep per night. Restorative sleep means that you are feeling well-rested from the minute you go to bed to when you wake up for the day. It is hard for people with fibromyalgia to get a good night’s sleep. Therefore, it is important to discuss any sleep problems with your doctor, who can then recommend proper treatment.
- Exercising: Although pain and fatigue may make exercise and daily activities difficult, it is crucial to be as physically active as possible. Research has repeatedly shown that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia. People who have too much pain or fatigue to do hard exercise should just begin to move more and become more active in routine daily activities. Then they can begin with walking (or other gentle exercise) and build their endurance and intensity slowly.
- Eating well: Although some people with fibromyalgia report feeling better when they eat or avoid certain foods, no specific diet has been proven to influence fibromyalgia. It is still important to have a healthy, balanced diet. Not only will proper nutrition give you more energy and make you generally feel better, it will also help you avoid other health problems.
- Pain management: Along with certain medications, complementary therapies may help you. Talk to your physician before trying any alternative treatments. These include: Physical therapy, myofascial release therapy, applying heat or cold (ice/heating pad), acupuncture, yoga, relaxation exercises (meditation), and aromatherapy.
Don’t let the pain associated with fibromyalgia dictate your life. To learn more about what could be causing your fibromyalgia pain, call Balcones Pain at (512) 834-4141, or request an appointment online.