Fibromyalgia: Your're Not Alone

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Category: Fibromyalgia (FMS) Published on Wednesday, 25 June 2008 Written by Yong Tsai, MD
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Do you suffer with widespread pain, fatigue, sleep disturbance, irritable bowel syndrome and other symptoms? Do you feel like no one understands your pain? Then maybe you have fibromyalgia (FMS): a complex chronic condition that has gained recognition as a common medical term over the past ten years.

Let’s look at Mrs. Shrader’s case.

Mrs. Shrader gradually developed generalized muscle pain, stiffness, poor sleep, exhaustion, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and numbness, which together resulted in depression. This thirty-five year old woman now finds it very difficult to keep up with her husband, who is ten years her elder. On good days, she is able to cook, clean, shop, and even play a little with her children. However, the following day, she’s back to suffering with her fibromyalgia symptoms. She feels alone, surrounded by people who cannot find it in themselves to believe that her pain is real. To others, she appears to be in good health, but that is only on the outside. Inside, she is a woman who has found no relief, from many unnecessary and expensive tests, and who wants to end this physical and mental suffering and get back to a normal life. A day without pain, being able to play with her children, ride her husband’s motorcycle, return to work, walk and exercise would be a dream come true for Mrs. Shrader.

WHAT IS FIBROMYALGIA?

The word fibromyalgia comes from “fibro” meaning fibrous tissues (such as tendons and ligaments), “my” meaning muscles and “ algia” meaning pain. Such pain combined with fibromyalgia’s other symptoms can wreak havoc on normal day to day living and leave it’s victim with a sense of frustration and aloneness.

This article is not intended to present the scientific findings on brain neurochemistry in fibromyalgia, however a brief summary would be that fibromyalgia is caused by a weakness in one or more of the brain’s chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters. Since neurotransmitters are responsible for helping the brain receive information from other tissues of the body, an impairment of their function can cause the brain to perceive pain coming from a part of the body that has not suffered physical injury. This explanation does not diminish the severity of the pain felt by people with fibromyalgia.

Even though its exact cause is unknown, a recent study has shown that about five million Americans are affected with fibromyalgia. Eighty to ninety percent of people who have fibromyalgia are women between the age of 35 and 60, however it can affect either gender or any age.

WIDESPREAD PAIN

Pain is the main symptom of FMS. It generally occurs throughout the body, although it may start in one region, such as the neck, back or shoulders, and may spread over a period of time. Its intensity varies from day to day and it can change locations. FMS does not cause pain or swelling of the joints. Rather, it produces pain in soft tissues located around joints and in skin. Although people may feel swelling in their joints, physical exam and laboratory investigations most commonly produce negative and normal results.

SLEEP DISTURBANCES

Sleep disturbances are common with fibromyalgia. These include trouble falling asleep, frequent awakenings during the night, inability to fall back to sleep or turning and tossing all night. It is not uncommon to wake up tired and unrefreshed.

FATIGUE

Fatigue is a major symptom of fibromyalgia. It is defined as never feeling rested no matter how much sleep you get. Some people feel tired all day and others feel more tired as the day goes on. However, fatigue can limit your ability to perform daily activities and to cope with your illness. Therefore, sometimes, the fatigue is a greater problem than the pain.

OTHER PROBLEMS

Depression, which is caused by an underlying chemical imbalance in the brain, often goes hand in hand with fibromyalgia. Causes may include frustration of having chronic pain, not being able to cope with simple daily chores, and the feeling of isolation and disbelief from others who do dot understand fibromyalgia. Furthermore, over 40 percent of people with fibromyalgia experience daily or frequent headaches.

DIAGNOSIS

Diagnosis is based on a patient’s history of widespread aching that lasts more than three months and from examination of at least eleven out of eighteen tender points. Sometimes, patients with rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus also have similar symptoms to fibromyalgia. This is why your doctor must exclude other medical possibilities before making a final diagnosis.

TREATMENT

Although there is no present cure for fibromyalgia, it is important to appreciate that it is not a life threatening or a deforming condition. Treatment consists of managing your symptoms as best possible. It may be difficult and multifaceted, but effective treatment can reduce the symptoms severity and make life more productive. Such treatment may include analgesics, anti-depressants, local injections, aerobic exercise, physical therapy, relaxation and meditation training, education and bio-feedback.

By taking an active part in managing your illness, you can take control of it, reduce the severity of its symptoms and successfully regain a productive life. The first step is to obtain an accurate diagnosis and begin effective therapy as soon as you can.  Next, you must take charge of your pain, evaluate the problems it creates and reassess your goals. Your task will be difficult, but not impossible. And remember you are not alone.

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