What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and chronic fatigue. Symptoms and severity differ depending on the individual. Individuals with fibromyalgia will often describe their pain as throbbing, stabbing, shoot, ache, or burning.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
- Widespread pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Tingling sensation in hands and feet
- Sleep disturbances
- Memory problems
- Extreme sensitivity to loud sounds and bright lights
- Overactive bladder
Causes and Prevalence of Fibromyalgia
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not yet known; however, research has identified risk factors that may increase an individual’s likelihood of developing the condition.
Risk Factors for Fibromyalgia
According to National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association, fibromyalgia impacts between 200 and 400 million people worldwide. Although fibromyalgia occurs in all races and both sexes, between 75% and 90% of those with fibromyalgia are women. It is also more common among those who have a family member who has experienced fibromyalgia as well.
Diagnosis of fibromyalgia typically occurs in middle age, between the ages of 20 years old and 50 years old. However, the older an individual gets, the more likely they are to develop the syndrome.
Individuals who experience sleep disorders also have an increased risk of fibromyalgia. Research has yet to identify if sleep disturbances are a trigger of the widespread pain or if it is a symptom, however, it is a common problem for those with fibromyalgia.
Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia
Although often associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia is a syndrome with a distinct set of symptoms which differ from arthritic joint pain. Fibromyalgia is often masked by co-occurring illnesses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome or migraine headaches. This can make the diagnosis of fibromyalgia sometime difficult.
There are no tests for identifying fibromyalgia as the root cause of an individual’s pain. X-rays and similar scans are not able to detect any changes in the muscles or soft tissues. As such, medical professionals must use the individual’s medical history and self-reported symptoms to determine if fibromyalgia is the correct diagnosis.
According to the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, to be diagnosed an individual must have widespread pain for at least three months in at all of the following areas:
- Left and right sides of the body
- Above and below the waist
Trigger point pain is also used to diagnose fibromyalgia. Eighteen trigger points have been identified and are used in assessing pain. Pressure is applied to the trigger points and the individual reports the level of pain experienced. To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia syndrome, an individual must report pain at 11 out of 18 triggers.
Treatment of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia, which has such a broad array of symptoms and no known cause, can be very difficult to treat. It is important for individuals to locate a medical professional who is well versed in fibromyalgia and is comfortable working with a team of specialists to resolve or lessen the impact of the syndrome. Medications, physical therapy, pain management, sleep management, and mental health support are options for care.
Alternative therapies such as massage, chiropractic care, and acupuncture are also potential options for treatment of fibromyalgia.
A number of medications have been approved by the FDA to treat this condition. These are duloxetine, milnacipran, and pregabalin. Many physicians will use other drugs to combat the symptoms of fibromyalgia as well. Painkillers, including narcotics, are used sparingly as the effectiveness of these drugs has not been proven by research and can often lead to long-term dependency. NSAIDS, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, are also used as a pain relieving option.