You hurt all over and you frequently feel exhausted. Even after numerous tests, your doctor can’t seem to find anything specifically wrong with you. If this sounds familiar, you may have fibromyalgia, a condition that affects an estimated 3 million to 8 million people in the United States. Approximately 80 percent to 90 percent of affected people are women.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by fatigue and widespread pain in your muscles, ligaments and tendons. Previously, the condition was known by other names such as fibrositis, chronic muscle pain syndrome, psychogenic rheumatism and tension myalgias.
In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) identified specific criteria for fibromyalgia. The ACR classifies a patient with fibromyalgia if at least 11 of 18 specific areas of your body are painful under pressure. Also, you must have had widespread pain lasting at least 3 months.
Signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia can vary, depending on weather, stress, physical activity or even just the time of day. Different people experience different signs and symptoms, but common signs and symptoms include:
Doctors believe that there isn’t one single cause of fibromyalgia. Rather, a number of factors may contribute. These factors may include:
Psychological stress and hormonal changes also may be possible causes of fibromyalgia.
Risk factors for fibromyalgia include:
Diagnosing fibromyalgia is difficult because there isn’t a single, specific diagnostic laboratory test. In fact, before receiving a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, you may go through several medical tests, such as blood tests and X-rays, only to have the results come back normal. Although these tests may rule out other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis, they can’t confirm fibromyalgia.
The American College of Rheumatology has established some general classification guidelines for fibromyalgia, to help in the assessment and study of the condition. These guidelines require that you have widespread aching for at least 3 months and have a minimum of 11 locations on your body that are abnormally tender under relatively mild pressure. In addition to taking your medical history, a doctor checking for fibromyalgia will press firmly on specific points on your head, upper body and certain joints so that you can confirm which cause pain.
However, not all doctors agree with the guidelines. Some believe that the criteria are too rigid and that you can have fibromyalgia even if you don’t meet the required number of tender points. Others question how reliable and valid tender points are as a diagnostic tool.
In general, treatment for fibromyalgia is with a combination of medication and self-care. The emphasis is on minimizing symptoms and improving general health.
Medications can help reduce the pain of fibromyalgia and improve sleep. The ones most commonly recommended by doctors include:
Prescription sleeping pills, such as zolpidem tartrate (Ambien), may provide short-term benefits for some people with fibromyalgia, but doctors usually advise against long-term use of these drugs. These medications tend to work for only a short time, after which your body becomes resistant to their effects. Ultimately, using sleeping pills tends to create even more sleeping problems in people with fibromyalgia.
Doctors don’t usually recommend narcotics for treating fibromyalgia because of the potential for dependence and addiction. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, haven’t been shown to be effective in treating fibromyalgia.
Complementary and alternative therapies for pain and stress management aren’t new. Some, such as meditation and yoga, have been practiced for thousands of years. But their use has become more popular in recent years, especially with people who have chronic illnesses, such as fibromyalgia.
Several of these treatments do appear to safely relieve stress and reduce pain, and some are gaining acceptance in mainstream medicine. But many practices remain unproved because they haven’t been adequately studied.
Some of the more common complementary and alternative treatments promoted for pain management, and the current thinking about their effectiveness and safety, include:
Besides dealing with the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia, you may also have to deal with the frustration of having a condition that’s often misunderstood. In addition to educating yourself about fibromyalgia, you may find it helpful to provide your family, friends and co-workers with information.
It’s also helpful to know that you’re not alone. Organizations such as the Arthritis Foundation and the American Chronic Pain Association provide educational classes and support groups. These groups can often provide a level of help and advice that you might not find anywhere else. They can also help put you in touch with others who have had similar experiences and can understand what you’re going through.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy seeks to increase your belief in your own abilities and teaches you methods for dealing with stressful situations. Therapy can be provided via individual counseling, audiotapes or classes, and may help you manage your fibromyalgia.
Interdisciplinary treatment programs may be effective in improving your symptoms, including relieving pain and depression. These programs can combine a variety of treatments, such as relaxation techniques, biofeedback and receiving information about chronic pain. There isn’t one combination that works best for everybody. Your doctor can create a program based on what works best for you.
Doctorsolve Healthcare Solution site strives to provide you with timely, accurate information, which is not intended for diagnosis or treatment.