Fibromyalgia: What is it?

What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia means pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons--the fibrous tissues in the body. It is a musculo-skeletal disorder that causes general bodyaches and joint pain, especially in the back. The exact cause is unknown. It is largely a disease of women ages 20 to 40 years old. Fibromyalgia is called primary when no cause is found and secondary when it follows or is associated with viral infections, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, other rheumatic conditions, or low thyroid function. Since the symptoms are so non-specific, many doctors may not believe that there is actually anything wrong with their patient.

Symptoms are often generalized and may include tension headaches, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstural tension, jaw pain, irritable bladder, excessive fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Many of the symptoms are exacerbated by stressful situations. Some of the most common signs of fibromyalgia include:

  • Joint stiffness without swelling
  • Tingling sensations
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Tenderness in points on the back and spine (this symptom is the one most helpful in distinguishing fibromyalgia from other problems)

Risk Factors
Due to the diffuse nature of the symptoms and the lack of pathophysiological mechanisms to account for the symptoms, it is difficult to assign accurate risk factors. All that is known is that most patients with fibromyalgia are women between ages 20 and 40 years old.

Fibromyalgia is the description of several of the symptoms that characterize the disease. There are no laboratory tests that can be performed to determine that this is, indeed fibromyalgia. All that can be done are tests to rule out other problems, especially endocrine problems. If you have symptoms consistent with those listed above and no evidence of any other disease that could explain the symptoms, you may be diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Just as the symptoms of fibromyalgia are somewhat non-specific, so are the treatments. Patients may be offered counseling to help them deal with the pain and to relax. Weight loss, physical therapy, stretching aerobic exercises, and hot showers may help. Sometimes doctors prescribe anti-depressants, various painkillers, and even electric nerve stimulation. Some say that estrogen replacement therapy helps. You should discuss your options with your doctor to determine what would be best for you. The mainstream choices can be summarized as follows:

  • Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatories (such as ibuprofen), to decrease the pain.
  • Sleep inducing medications, to ensure that the patient gets enough deep sleep. Lack of level 4 sleep may be one contributing factor to fibromyalgia.
  • Exercise program, to help manage the pain.
  • Muscle relaxation techniques and stress reduction, to help manage the pain.

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