Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in the muscles, tendons and ligaments. It also causes many other troublesome symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, mood problems, and insomnia. Although fibromyalgia occurs in people of all ages, women are twice as likely to develop it than men. It’s generally a lifelong condition, and its symptoms can severely impact your daily life. Simple tasks such as grocery shopping or cooking can become very difficult due to the fatigue and pain of fibromyalgia.
Causes, Signs and Symptoms
Fibromyalgia is thought to change the way your brain interprets pain signals, increasing the sensations of pain and discomfort throughout your body. The nerves become more sensitive to external stimuli and begin to overreact to pain signals from the brain. Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes fibromyalgia, but a variety of different factors are thought to play a part in its development. However, it’s often observed in patients who have been recently affected by a surgery, infection, or physical trauma. Psychological trauma may also contribute to the development of fibromyalgia. Genetic factors also play a role, and you’re more likely to develop fibromyalgia if a family member also has the condition.
It typically begins with a dull ache or throbbing in your muscles and joints. The pain generally becomes widespread and felt in many areas of your body. The pain may come and go, or increase during times of stress. Fibromyalgia is also usually accompanied by symptoms of fatigue. The pain often interferes with sleep, and sleep disorders such a restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea are commonly reported. Fibromyalgia also causes cognitive problems, impairing your memory and the ability to focus on mental tasks. It may also cause other symptoms such as anxiety, depression and headaches. You may also experience paresthesia, which is characterized by numbness, tingling or burning sensations. Fibromyalgia often occurs with other medical problems such as severe menstrual cramps, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and acid reflux.
Because it shares symptoms with many other medical conditions, fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed. Other conditions that can cause similar symptoms include rheumatoid arthritis, tendonitis and osteoporosis. Not all patients report the same symptoms, and lab tests are usually needed to rule out other medical problems.
Common Treatment Options
Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, several treatment options may be combined to ease your symptoms. Typically, a doctor will assess your pain levels and how much the symptoms affect your daily life. Together, you and your doctor will come up with a strategy to best manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Medications can help to relieve the pain of fibromyalgia and improve sleep. Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen can be effective for reducing pain. You doctor may prescribe other pain medications if these medications don’t prove helpful. Additionally, antidepressants can help to reduce anxiety and fatigue. Muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine can improve sleep and relieve muscle and joint pain.
Several medications used to treat epilepsy have been shown to be effective for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Other types of medications such as gabapentin and pregabalin have been proven to reduce the symptoms experienced by patients with fibromyalgia and increase their quality of life.
Several different types of therapy may also be used to treat the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Physical therapy can work to reduce your pain by increasing muscle strength and flexibility. An occupational therapist can make adjustments to work and living areas to limit the stress on your body caused by daily tasks. Talking with a counselor can help you to establish strategies to deal with anxiety and stressful situations.
Alternative remedies can be used along with medical treatment to manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Reducing stress can be one of the most effective ways to manage the worst symptoms of fibromyalgia. Although it may be tempting to drop all daily tasks when trying to manage chronic pain, keeping an active daily routine can actually help to reduce stress and anxiety. Stress management techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can help to calm your mind and relieve anxiety.
Because fatigue can be one of the most debilitating symptoms of fibromyalgia, it’s important to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. Practice good sleep habits such as going to bed at the same time each night, getting up at the same time each morning and limiting daily naps. Avoid eating heavy meals in the evening, and limit the use of electronics right before bedtime.
Eating a well-rounded diet is essential for managing a chronic pain condition such as fibromyalgia. Your diet should have a healthy balance of protein and carbohydrates, and include nutrient-rich foods such as fish, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Foods with high levels of antioxidants such as salmon, berries and greens have been shown to effectively reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body.
Although strenuous exercise can increase your muscle pain and discomfort, light exercise can help to reduce the pain of fibromyalgia. Exercise can also effectively relieve stress and promote sleep. Start out gradually with gentle exercises such as biking, swimming or walking. Light stretching can also help to relieve pain. A physical therapist can help you develop an exercise routine to safely strengthen muscles and reduce the pain of fibromyalgia.
Many important research discoveries have been made recently in the area of chronic pain, and the findings are very promising for the treatment of conditions such as fibromyalgia. A better understanding of centralized pain by doctors is leading to better strategies for managing the pain of fibromyalgia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently approved several new medications for the treatment of fibromyalgia, with others currently being developed.
Research on alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, is also showing promising results. These alternative therapies can be being combined with other traditional treatments for fibromyalgia. Although the symptoms of fibromyalgia can still be challenging to diagnose and treat, patients with fibromyalgia now have many more options for treatment. The right approach can lead to better relief of pain, improve health overall and lead to a much better quality of life for the fibromyalgia patient.