Fibromyalgia is a complex and chronic medical disorder that is marked by widespread pain throughout the body, but most particularly within the muscular system. It can come and go and can also shift around in the body, with different places feeling pain at different points in time. In addition to pain, sufferers often experience intense fatigue, tension headaches, and a range of gastrointestinal issues. Medical experts have not been able to identify a single cause, and there isn’t a cure for the condition, either. It’s also very difficult to diagnose in many cases since the symptoms can change and shift over time, and some days are worse than others. It is not usually considered to be life threatening, but it can be quite debilitating and can create serious obstacles in the daily lives of patients.
The symptoms most commonly identified with Fibromyalgia are pain and fatigue. Many medical experts talk about the condition in terms of “widespread” pain, which usually means that it occurs both above and below the waist and on both sides of the body, which is to say, on both the right and the left. Most patients describe their sensation as more of a dull ache than a shooting stab, but a lot of this depends on the individual.
An inability to focus and feelings of being in a “mental fog” are very common, too, and many sufferers have a number of cognitive difficulties as a direct consequence of their condition. Other documented symptoms include body stiffness, gastro-intestinal and urinary problems, sleep difficulties, and headaches. People often suffer bouts of intense symptoms followed by periods of more normalcy, though in most cases some pain or irregularity is present somewhere on a more or less constant basis.
Searching for a Cause
The cause of Fibromyalgia is not known, but the vast majority of sufferers are women and it tends to run in families. It is generally believed to be a brain condition related to pain reception and processing. There is a wide variability in how patients develop the condition, what their symptoms are, and how they respond to treatment. Popular theories are that it can be triggered and exacerbated by illness, injury, stress, and sleep interruptions, but most studies on the topic have been inconclusive.
How It’s Diagnosed
Diagnosing this condition can be frustrating for both doctors and patients, and it often takes a lot of time and some degree of trial and error. Unlike some other disorders, there’s no single blood test or imaging test that can be done to definitively determine what is going on. Many of the initial symptoms mimic conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and lupus, so these usually have to be ruled out first. Beyond that, it’s largely a matter of physician expertise and piecing together possibilities from what the patient reports and how he or she presents. A number of medical authorities including the American College of Rheumatology have published diagnostic criteria to help physicians, but even these sorts of guidelines aren’t usually definitive.
There is no known cure for Fibromyalgia, but sufferers can often find relief from a range of different treatments. Certain prescription drugs, particularly anti-inflammatory medications, are often helpful when it comes to managing pain, and low doses of certain stimulants can be useful in battling cognitive difficulties. Patients who have suffered from the condition for a long period of time sometimes also develop depression, and medications can help with this, too.
There are also a range of non-traditional or “alternative” therapies available in many places. Some patients find relief from regular massage and acupuncture sessions. In addition, many doctors feel that one of the most effective ways to manage symptoms is through simple physical exercise. Although this may be difficult in the beginning, patients can start slowly, often walking for as little as five minutes a day, then build up their tolerance over time. Intentional periods of rest and relaxation throughout the day can be important, too, and certain stretches and weight-bearing exercises can provide relief as well.