Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a chronic condition that causes pain in the muscles and bones. Fibromyalgia is notoriously hard to diagnose given the fact that there appears to be no particular catalyst to mark its onset and the symptoms accumulate gradually over a period of time. Fibromyalgia affects around 2-8% of the American population with 90% of them being young to middle-aged women.
What causes it?
While the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown several hypotheses have been postulated. The probable causes include:
- Genetics: It has been found that people with the 5-HT2A receptor 102T/C polymorphism are at a greater risk of developing fibromyalgia.
- Poor lifestyle choices: It has been found that poor lifestyle choices like smoking, lack of physical activity, and obesity greatly increase the risk of developing fibromyalgia.
- Psychological factors: Studies suggest that stress, depression, and trauma may be some of the important precipitating factors in the development of fibromyalgia.
There is no test that can fully diagnose fibromyalgia and there is an ongoing debate in the scientific and the medical community as to whether an objective diagnosis is actually possible. Currently, a diagnosis is possible only after all other explanations have been exhausted and this usually takes years to figure out. And fibromyalgia may not be diagnosed in up to 75% of affected people. That brings us to the questions: how do we diagnose it and what are its key symptoms?
- Chronic pain in multiple areas of the body for over 3 months.
- Muscle stiffness, usually in the morning when you wake up, that usually decreases in severity as the day progresses.
- Pain in and around 18 tender points. Another more updated method of diagnosis is using widespread pain index (WPI) and symptom severity scale (SS).
- Fatigue, even after a proper rest, is an extremely common symptom. Difficulty falling asleep and waking up in the morning and still feeling tired are common, so watch out for these.
- Fibrofog: It is a cognitive dysfunction characterized by a decrease in concentration levels, inability to multi-task, impaired speed of performance, and diminished attention span.
- Painful menstrual periods.
- Other symptoms: Heightened sensitivity to temperature changes, sudden inexplicable weight loss/gain, hearing and vision problems, irritable bowel syndrome, onset of previously absent allergies.
How to get diagnosed?
If you observe some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, it’s best to visit a doctor immediately. Even with the help of a doctor, it can take years to come to the conclusion that fibromyalgia is the culprit for your chronic pain, so the earlier you see a doctor the better it is.
Steps to get diagnosed:
- In consultation with your doctor rule out other health issues that may be causing your symptoms. These health issues include rheumatic diseases, mental health problems, like depression, and stress or neurological disorders.
- Along with your doctor, rule out small-fiber polyneuropathy. It’s a medical condition that’s often misunderstood as fibromyalgia.
How to treat?
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers: OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen sodium can help relieve some of the pain symptoms. Always follow instructions regarding safe daily dosages and duration that you can take the medication before discontinuing.
- Consult a doctor: Various prescription medications have proven helpful in dealing with the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. Consult your doctor to find the best medication regimen for you.
- Get proper sleep: Poor sleep worsens fibromyalgia-related pain by impairing pain-inhibition pathways. Strategies like going to bed at the same time daily, sleeping in a dark room, switching off electronic gadgets while sleeping, and avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can help improve the quality of your sleep.
- Exercise regularly: Exercising regularly can help decrease the symptoms. Even a 20-minute walk or a jog can stretch your muscles and relieve your pain symptoms. Exercising produces endorphins which can improve your mood and aid your sleep. Be informed that exercising, in the beginning, will increase the pain, but in time it will gradually alleviate the symptoms.
- Reduce stress: Relaxing will help you cope with symptoms of the disease like depression and stress. Studies have shown that yoga and tai chi may be helpful in reducing stress, as well as, in reducing the physical symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- Follow an anti-inflammatory diet: Follow a diet comprised of green leafy vegetables, fruits, food with whole grains like wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and long grain brown rice. Green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamin E, which helps reduce inflammation, while fruits contain antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Try massage: Getting a massage is a great way to get rid of fibromyalgia-related pain.
Coping with fibromyalgia
Being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and knowing that you have to now live with chronic pain can have emotionally devastating effects. To best cope with this aspect you can find a support group. One such group is National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association (NFMCPA).
Do you know someone who has been suffering from chronic pain for a very long time and all diagnoses have failed to find the cause? It might be a case of fibromyalgia. With over 75% of people affected never being diagnosed mostly due to not knowing about the disease, spreading the word could bring relief to a lot of people.