Fibromyalgia is a very common condition that affects men and women, though it is predominantly seen in women, particularly in the age ranges 30 to 60.
The symptoms of fibromyalgia are pain in the muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons. There are generally localized areas of pain which are called tender points, or “trigger points.”
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. It may tend to run in families. It seems to be worsened by depression, poor sleeping habits, sendentary lifestyle, and obesity.
The diagnosis of fibromyalgia is one that is made based on symptoms and physical findings. There are no blood tests or x-rays which can firmly diagnose fibromyalgia.
One of the main factors in fibromyalgia seems to be an increased sensitivity to pain. Symptoms can come and go and may vary with activity, stress, weather changes and other factors.
Lack of energy is a common symptom of fibromyalgia. This fatigue may be mild or quite severe. It may be in part due to sleep disturbance and the sleep disturbance can be caused both by the muscle and joint pain as well as by underlying sleep disorders.
In addition, feelings of numbness or tingling and sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises are common. Headaches and jaw pain (TMJ) are also symptoms of the disease.
Digestive symptoms are also a part of fibromyalgia and include heartburn, gas, crampy abdominal pain, and alternating diarrhea and constipation. Pelvic pain, both pain in the bladder and painful menstrual cycles, are seen in fibromyalgia.
Depression or anxiety may occur as a result of the chronic pain and/or may be part of the cause of fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia does not damage the muscles, joints or organs but can be a chronic, ongoing, painful condition. Unfortunately, because the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown there is no cure available but there are many things that you and your doctor can do to help you feel better.
Several medications can help relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Many of these medications are directed at improving sleep as well as reducing the muscle and nerve tension medications such as amitriptyline (Elavil) or cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) are taken at night. Although these medications may initially make you feel groggy in the morning and can cause mouth dryness, constipation and nightmares, these side effects generally improve as you continue on the medications. The benefits of these medications can be immense after four to six weeks.
Anti-inflammatory medication can be quite helpful in relieving the muscle and joint pain, and intestinal muscle relaxants are useful for the abdominal complaints.
One of the most important forms of treatment are lifestyle changes, particularly exercise. Low impact aerobic exercise, such as swimming or water exercises, bicycling or briskwalking are very helpful. Many people need to begin at a very low level of exercise, five minutes every other day at first and then gradually work up to 20 or 30 minutes five times a week.
The symptoms of fibromyalgia are worsened by stress and inadequate sleep. It is very important to try to reduce the stress in life as well as improve sleeping. Therefore the amounts of caffeine and alcohol should be reduced. Testing for sleep disorders should be considered.
In many cities there are support groups for fibromylgia patients. Additionally, the Arthritis Foundation has information that can be useful. There is also a national fibromyalgia group which can be a good source of information.
Fibromyalgia Network Newsletter
P.O. Box 31750
Tucson, Arizona 85751
General internists and rheumatologists are the specialists to see to help you manage fibromyalgia. With medical help and lifestyle changes, the symptoms of fibromyalgia are controllable.
Authored by: Christopher P. Robben, M.D.