What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic rheumatic condition. This means that it is a long-lasting disease that impairs joints and/or soft tissues. Fibromyalgia is typically characterized by widespread pain and tenderness of the muscles.
Though the mechanism of what causes fibromyalgia isn’t very well known, most researchers agree that it comes from an abnormality in how the brain and body processes pain. This abnormality results in a hypersensitization of the muscles and joints to stimuli. The hypersensitization causes stimuli that usually wouldn’t be painful to become overwhelmingly painful.
Fibromyalgia can be triggered by certain events, or it can gradually come on its own over time. Some of the events that can trigger the symptom onset of fibromyalgia are:
- Physical Trauma: Trauma to the body, such as what happens during a car accident, can sometimes trigger the onset of fibromyalgia.
- Emotional Trauma: Long periods of intense emotional stress on the body can trigger the condition.
- Infection: Moderate to severe illnesses and infections have been shown as a trigger in some cases.
Some risk factors have been linked to fibromyalgia, including:
- Genetics: A family history of fibromyalgia makes you more susceptible to developing the condition. This is especially true if a close family relative, such as a parent or sibling, has fibromyalgia.
- Gender: The majority of fibromyalgia cases are found in women.
- Additional Rheumatic Disorders: Having another rheumatic disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus puts you at a higher risk of developing fibromyalgia.
Many symptoms can be attributed to fibromyalgia. Many of them are non-specific symptoms, which make fibromyalgia hard to diagnose. However, here are some of the most reported symptoms of fibromyalgia:
● Widespread pain
● Chronic fatigue
● Memory trouble
● Mood imbalances
● Cognitive Delay or a general “fogginess.”
● Sleep disruptions
In addition to the typical symptoms you might find, other diseases tend to coexist with fibromyalgia. These include:
● Irritable Bowel Syndrome
● Sleep Apnea
● Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
● Interstitial Cystitis
Fibromyalgia Diagnostic Tools
There is no one specific diagnostic tool that doctors can use for fibromyalgia. Instead, they use a combination of detailed patient history and a comprehensive physical exam. Physicians might also order lab work to rule out other conditions that present similarly.
However, when it comes to the symptom of widespread pain, if a patient presents with widespread pain for at least three months or more, the patient is considered to be fibromyalgic. This rough guideline can be beneficial to physicians in the diagnosing of fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia Treatment Options
Unfortunately, there is no cure for fibromyalgia, only managing symptoms to increase the quality of life. Three treatment modalities are typically used, which include medication, therapy, and self-care regimens.
Medications commonly chosen for symptom management are:
● Pain medication
● Sleep aids
● Anti-seizure drugs (used for different types of pain)
Different types of therapies can be helpful, including:
● Physical therapy
● Counseling, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Self-care is essential in the management of fibromyalgia symptoms. Some fibromyalgia self-care strategies include:
● A healthy diet
● Meditation and mindfulness for stress relief
● A healthy sleep routine for good quality sleep
● Hot baths and/or showers
Steve Thompson, M.D., is a Rheumatologist at The Corvallis Clinic and specializes in rheumatology conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis, gout, and lupus. To schedule an appointment, please call 541-754-1371