Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic and complex pain disorder that affects people socially, mentally and physically. This condition is often characterized by multiple tender points, chronic widespread pain, fatigue, abnormal pain processing, psychological distress and sleep issues. Fibromyalgia awareness is important because this condition often gets misdiagnosed or can go undiagnosed for several years.
While this chronic condition can affect both sexes, studies have shown that women are far more likely to develop this disorder. Statistics show that between eighty and ninety percent of cases diagnosed are women.
The pain from FM is usually described as pain that begins in the muscles and tends to radiate to other parts of the body. Other people describe pain that’s similar to a pins and needles sensation.
In order to be diagnosed with this condition, the patient must have pain that affects most parts of the body including both sides. This type of pain often comes and goes and can be severe some days and mild others.
What is actually very interesting is that women and men experience this pain differently. Both sexes report intense pain at least part of the time. However, men tend to report lower pain intensity. Women usually experience pain that radiates for a longer duration. The pain is believed to be worse in women because estrogen minimizes pain tolerance.
It also causes tender points, in addition to the widespread pain. These tender points involve specific areas of the body, typically near the joints. Experts have identified as many as eighteen of these tender areas. On average, women often report at least four more tender areas than men. These areas are said to be more sensitive in women. These areas can include:
- The sides and tops of the hips
- The back of the head
- Space between the shoulder blades
Tenderness is also commonly felt around the pelvic area. Pain that’s constant and lasts for more than a few months is referred to as chronic pelvic pain. This pain tends to start in the middle of the back and run down into the thighs.
Studies have also shown that women with fibromyalgia reported significantly higher levels of depression compared to men.
Other medical conditions that can occur with it include sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. Lack of sleep often contributes to feelings of depression, anxiety and fatigue and can also increase a woman’s sensitivity to pain. Fibromyalgia can also have an effect on a person’s ability to focus, even if they have no sleep problems.
Other common symptoms include sensitivity to bright lights, loud noises and temperature drops. Trouble concentrating and remembering is also referred to as fibro fog. Severe migraines and headaches can cause vomiting and nausea.
Meeting with an FM Specialist
Speak with your doctor if these symptoms persist and interfere with your well-being. Unfortunately, there is no single test for this condition. These symptoms can be similar to other conditions such as autoimmune diseases, but unlike an autoimmune disease, this condition will not cause inflammation. During this time your doctor will perform a physical and order a number of tests in order to rule out other conditions.
While not life threatening, this condition can affect your quality of life. By receiving early treatment you can slowdown the progression of fibromyalgia and minimize symptoms.
Some people are able to manage their pain by using over the counter pain medication such as anti-inflammatories and acetaminophen. Your physician may prescribe specific medication designed to minimize fatigue and pain, usually if the over the counter medications are not very effective.
These drugs include duloxetine, Savella, Lyrica and gabapentin. A study from 2001 showed that women who took magnesium and malic acid reported a significant reduction in muscle pain within two days. Unfortunately, there have been no recent studies focused on this type of natural fibromyalgia treatment.
Antidepressants are also commonly used to treat the condition and are said to help minimize fatigue, anxiety and depression. Certain antidepressants have also been proven to be effective in promoting a healthy sleep pattern.
Anti-seizure medication normally used to treat epilepsy is also helpful in minimizing certain types of pain. Neurontin can work to reduce certain fibromyalgia symptoms, while Lyrica was the first medication approved by the FDA to specifically treat fibromyalgia.
Counseling is also recommended because it can help to strengthen the patient’s belief in their abilities to deal with stressful situations while dealing with chronic pain.
When it comes to managing fibromyalgia, self-care will be critical. Your first goal should be stress reduction. Create a plan to limit or avoid emotional stress and overexertion. Set aside time each day to relax.
One of the main characteristics of fibromyalgia is fatigue and because of this, getting enough sleep at night is essential. Practice good sleep habits and avoid napping during the day.
Workout regularly. In the beginning, exercising can increase pain, but increasing the intensity gradually and often can actually help to decrease symptoms. Good workout choices include water aerobics, cycling, swimming and walking. Your physician may refer you to a physical therapist to help you create your own home workout program that’s tailored to your needs and fitness level.
Focus on maintaining healthy lifestyle habits. Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake. Make healthier food choices.
Alternative Treatment for This Condition
Alternative therapies for stress and pain management have become popular in recent years, especially with patients who deal with ongoing pain. Some of these treatments do appear to reduce pain and relieve stress and many are gaining more acceptance in mainstream medicine.
Studies have indicated that acupuncture can help to relieve fibromyalgia pain. The thin needles used can cause significant changes in the levels of neurotransmitters in the spine and brain while also improving circulation.
One of the oldest methods of healthcare still in practice is massage therapy, which involves using different types of manipulative techniques in order to move soft tissues and the body’s muscles.
Yoga combines the practice of deep breathing, slow movements and relaxation techniques to improve flexibility, strengthen muscles and minimize aches, pain, stress and anxiety.
Fibromyalgia awareness can educate you and your family members about its signs and symptoms and can also teach you about the simple and natural ways you can help to fight this disorder more effectively.