Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes fatigue and widespread pain and tenderness in the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Individuals who suffer from fibromyalgia may have specific tender points on their body where they are particularly sensitive when pressure is applied. Fibromyalgia may also be associated with sleep problems, headaches and trouble concentrating. Women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia and it commonly occurs between the ages of 40 and 60.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, however research has linked this condition to various factors. Genetics may play a role, as fibromyalgia typically runs in families. As stress can cause pain virtually anywhere in the body, physical or emotional trauma such as illness, injury or stressful or traumatic events have been linked to the development of fibromyalgia. Certain infections may make people more susceptible to fibromyalgia as well.
Other research has indicated that patients suffering from fibromyalgia may have increased sensitivity to pain signals within their brain, resulting in a lower threshold for pain. Pain receptors in the brain may change over time to become more sensitive and actually overreact to normal pain signals. Patients with rheumatic diseases such as arthritis or lupus may also be at an increased risk for developing fibromyalgia.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Patients with fibromyalgia typically experience constant dull muscle aches and additional pain from pressure on certain tender points throughout the body, including the upper chest, inner knees, or upper shoulders. Another common symptom of fibromyalgia is constant fatigue, even after a full night of sleep. Additional symptoms of fibromyalgia may include:
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Problems with memory
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Morning stiffness
- Painful menstrual periods
- Restless leg syndrome
The symptoms of fibromyalgia may vary depending on certain factors, including time of day and weather, and they can also be affected by stress and physical activity. Patients that are suffering from the symptoms of fibromyalgia, often also suffer from other conditions which may include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Interstitial cystitis
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is often difficult to diagnose as the symptoms often mimic those of other conditions and there is no specific test to diagnose this specific disorder. A doctor may diagnose fibromyalgia by reviewing symptoms and performing a full physical examination. Blood tests, urinalysis and imaging tests may also be performed to rule out any other conditions that may be causing pain.
Treatment for Fibromyalgia
Treatment for fibromyalgia varies and aims to relieve symptoms and improve overall health. There is no definitive treatment for this condition, with most patients benefiting from a combination of methods. Medication is typically prescribed to reduce pain and improve sleep and may include:
Physical therapy is often recommended, as certain exercises have been shown to reduce pain in patients suffering from fibromyalgia. Since fibromyalgia can often be triggered by stress, cognitive behavioral therapy may also be helpful by providing individuals with coping strategies. While fibromyalgia does not usually worsen over time or lead to life-threatening complications, it can result in significant pain, depression and lack of sleep. It may also affect a patient's ability to work and maintain close family or personal relationships. Individuals with fibromyalgia should strive to maintain active, healthy, stress-free lifestyles in order to manage the symptoms of this condition and improve their quality of life.