Fibromyalgia Syndrome: Do You Think You Have It?

Fibromyalgia Syndrome

An Overview of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) has been characterized as a disorder that causes musculoskeletal pain that is accompanied by fatigue, memory issue, mood swings, and sleep disorders. It has been believed by researchers that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.

You can start noticing symptoms after experiencing physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In some rare cases, symptoms can accumulate gradually over time with not even a single triggering event.

Women are more susceptible to acquire fibromyalgia than men. Most people with fibromyalgia experience tension headaches, temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ), irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and depression.

People with fibromyalgia have sore, stiff muscles, however, nothing peculiar shows up on Xrays or most lab tests. Most doctors diagnose fibromyalgia patients based on their symptoms and an exam. Fibromyalgia doesn’t really damage internal organs, joints, and ligaments but the constant fatigues can have a great impact on a patient’s daily life.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages carried around the body.

Some people have suggested that fibromyalgia can be acquired through inheritance from their parents or relatives. It tends to run in families and there may be certain genetic mutations that may make you more susceptible to develop the disorder. In many cases, fibromyalgia can be triggered by any physical, emotional, and mental stress such as:

  • An injury or infection
  • Giving birth (Postpartum depression)
  • Having an operation
  • A breakdown of a relationship
  • Death of a loved one

What are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?

There is no certain cure for fibromyalgia but a variety of medications can help control symptoms.
Symptoms include:

Widespread pain

The pain associated with fibromyalgia is often described as a lingering and constant dull ache that has been going on for at least three months. It causes chronic pain that radiates all over the body.

Fatigue

Despite sleeping for a long period of time, you wake up feeling restless and tired. Your sleep gets disrupted by pain and quite a number of patients with fibromyalgia have other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.

Cognitive difficulties

Symptoms commonly referred to as “fibro fog”. It impairs the ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate on mental tasks.

You will/can also experience other painful conditions such as:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Tension headaches or migraine
  • Painful bladder syndrome or interstitial cystitis
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Joint pain and numbness or tingling
  • Extreme tenderness
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Insomnia

Tender Points

Although doctors find it hard to identify and diagnose fibromyalgia, there are certain and specific locations all around the body that, when pressed, hurt. People who don’t have fibromyalgia only feel pressure, unlike patients who really suffer from fibromyalgia. The illustration below shows the 18 common tender points:

fibromyalgia tender points

Who can be affected by fibromyalgia?

Anyone can develop fibromyalgia. The condition usually occurs between the ages of 30 and 50, but can still occur at any age including children and most especially the elderly. Women are ten times more likely to acquire fibromyalgia compared to men.

Some research data suggest that nearly 1 in 20 people may be affected by fibromyalgia to some extent. Fibromyalgia can be a bit tricky to diagnose that is why the number of people affected is not really clear. There is no specific test for fibromyalgia and the symptoms can be similar to a number of other conditions.

What Triggers Fibromyalgia?

In order to know what to do in order to relieve pain, you first need to know what triggers your symptoms to worsen. Most common triggers include:

  • Cold weather and/or humidity
  • Too little or too much physical, strenuous activities
  • Any form of stress
  • Lack of sleep

Diagnosis and Test for Fibromyalgia

Diagnosis

Not all patients experience the same symptoms than other patients. So, aside from checking the 18 tender points around the body, fibromyalgia can be diagnosed if a person has experienced widespread pain for more than three months, with no underlying medical condition that could cause the pain.

Blood Tests

There is no specific lab test that can diagnose and confirm fibromyalgia. Some blood tests that may help identify fibromyalgia include:

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

What are the Treatments of Fibromyalgia?

Treatment

According to Mayo Clinic, there are two types of treatment for fibromyalgia: medication and self-care. The sole purpose of the treatment is to minimize symptoms and improve your overall health.

Medications for Fibromyalgia

Medications prescribed by doctors help reduce the pain of fibromyalgia and improve sleep. Common choices include:

  • Pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others) may be helpful. Your doctor might suggest a prescription pain reliever such as tramadol (Ultram). Narcotics are not advisable, because they can lead to dependence and may even worsen the pain over time.
  • Antidepressants. Duloxetine (Cymbalta) and milnacipran (Savella) may help ease the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. Your doctor may prescribe amitriptyline or the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine to help promote sleep.
  • Anti-seizure drugs. Medications designed to treat epilepsy are often useful in reducing certain types of pain. Gabapentin (Neurontin) is sometimes helpful in reducing fibromyalgia symptoms, while pregabalin (Lyrica) was the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat fibromyalgia.

Therapy

  • Physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you exercises that will improve your strength, flexibility, and stamina. Water-based exercises might be particularly helpful.
  • Occupational therapy. An occupational therapist can help you make adjustments to your work area or the way you perform certain tasks that will cause less stress on your body.
  • Counseling. Talking with a counselor can help strengthen your belief in your abilities and teach you strategies for dealing with stressful situations.

You can help improve your overall health by changing your lifestyle. Taking care of yourself is critical if you want to minimize the symptoms of fibromyalgia. You have to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Pace yourself
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle

You also have to try getting alternative medicines such as:

Acupuncture

It is a Chinese medical system that focuses on the normal balance of life forces by inserting very fine needles through the skin. Inserting needles can cause changes in blood flow and levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy involves the use of different manipulative techniques to move your body’s muscles and soft tissues. Getting a massage can help reduce your heart rate, relax your muscles, improve range of motion in your joints, and increase the production of your body’s natural painkillers. Massages can help relieve stress and anxiety.

Yoga and Taichi

These two practices are a combination of meditation, slow movements, deep breathing, and relaxation.

If you are looking for a doctor who specializes in pain management, Dr. Ronak Patel is a pain management specialist in New Jersey that focuses on regenerative care, medical marijuana, spine care, and joint care serving Plainsboro, Princeton, and its surrounding areas. To book an appointment, you can call him at his pain management clinic in New Jersey at 609-269-4451. Book now for a consultation before it’s too late!