What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that causes fatigue and widespread pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons (the fibrous tissues in the body), but not the joints. The pain can affect all areas of the body, however, the tender points are usually in specific areas, such as the back of the head and neck, spine, hips, elbows and shoulders.
Women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia, though anyone of any age can be affected. Fibromyalgia used to be known as fibrositis.
What causes fibromyalgia?
Scientists are unsure of the cause of fibromyalgia. However, research indicates that people who suffer sleep disturbances regularly can develop fibromyalgia, for example if you suffer with arthritis and the pain disturbs your sleep you may go on to develop fibromyalgia (this is called secondary fibromyalgia). Fibromyalgia may also be triggered off during periods of stress or after a major trauma, such as a car crash or an operation, though usually the condition will develop without any obvious trigger.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Unlike other forms of arthritis where the sufferer experiences pain in the joints, fibromyalgia affects soft tissue like the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Fibromyalgia is a collection of symptoms for which no known cause may be found. The severity of symptoms can vary in each individual and may include any of the following:
- Trouble with sleeping.
- The need to urinate frequently.
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Pain and stiffness, which can affect almost all of the body.
- Numbness and tingling in hands and feet.
Once fibromyalgia begins there can be a vicious cycle, pain begins to get worse and as a result sleep disturbances are greater, this can then cause the sufferer to develop depression.
Am I at risk of getting fibromyalgia?
Scientists are not sure what causes fibromyalgia, however, the following may trigger the illness :
- Car accident or major surgery.
- Emotional trauma such as from sexual or physical abuse.
Can I do anything to prevent getting fibromyalgia?
Though there is nothing you can do to prevent getting fibromyalgia you should always maintain a healthy diet and ensure you get regular exercise.
How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?
Fibromyalgia can be very difficult to diagnose because of the many different symptoms. There is no single test to diagnose fibromyalgia so your doctor will usually begin by studying your medical history and giving you a physical examination. The doctor will then look for the presence of tender points in areas of the body typically affected by fibromyalgia. This is carried out by the doctor pressing the area firmly with his/her thumb.
You may also have several blood tests, urine tests or x-rays to eliminate the possibility of other illnesses.
How is fibromyalgia treated?
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, though it is possible to control your symptoms through exercise, painkillers (such as paracetamol), drugs and physiotherapy. The drugs available can help relieve pain and improve sleep quality, sleeping tablets should be avoided because they can become addictive.
If simple painkillers fail to relieve the pain you may be treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (N.S.A.I.D’s) to relieve pain. You may also be prescribed antidepressants even if you are not depressed to help improve sleep quality and some of the available antidepressants can be effective in relieving long term pain.
It is important for people with fibromyalgia to get regular exercise, even though you may experience pain and find it difficult. Ask your doctor or physiotherapist for advice on what exercises you should start with, swimming, walking, aerobics or cycling are usually the best. Start gradually by building up your exercise rate until you have a good level of fitness. Whatever exercise you choose remember to warm up your muscles first with stretching exercises.
Your doctor may also suggest you learn how to manage stress, especially if stress was the possible trigger in the development of your fibromyalgia.