Motherhood is one of the most rewarding experiences a woman has the opportunity to experience. It brings with it challenges, and it can truly shape a mother into who she ends up being for the rest of her life. The act of giving birth is one of the most natural and beautiful events that happen every day, with approximately 360,000 women around the world giving birth on a daily basis. Although this act of nature has its beauty, childbirth and motherhood can also bring difficulties as well. One condition that has the potential to develop during pregnancy is fibromyalgia, a condition consisting of pain felt around the entire body. It has been found that pregnancy will often result in a variety of symptoms similar to fibromyalgia. These may include nausea, joint pain, and brain fatigue. This being said, it is all too common that fibromyalgia will go undetected, and ultimately undiagnosed. With this brings risks of lacking the necessary treatment for mothers-to-be, and can potentially lead to other health risks. Acknowledging the symptoms is the first step in combating this issue, as is necessary to live a healthy life during and after pregnancy.
The Challenges of Pregnancy and Fibromyalgia
With every pregnancy, women will most often experience nausea as well as excessive tiredness, or fatigue, in the early stages of the pregnancy. For pregnant women diagnosed with fibromyalgia, these feelings will be amplified. This can also be said for an increase in pregnancy-related stress and pain. This rise in stress levels can be the result of the rapid physical changes that come with pregnancy, as well as the approach of the day of delivery.
Another challenge for women experiencing fibromyalgia while pregnant include their medication intake. One of the only over-the-counter pain relievers accepted for use by pregnant women is tylenol, meaning that many other medications are strictly prohibited by physicians. As this can be the case for women who are pregnant and not experiencing any significant health conditions or illness, the restrictions may be even more pronounced for pregnant women with fibromyalgia. This is why it is imperative that women with the condition check with their physician before continuing any fibromyalgia-related medications.
An especially challenging aspect of fibromyalgia is the fatigue and pain brought on. This is amplified for pregnant women, and can have severe mental and physical consequences if these symptoms go unchecked. This can be supported with physical therapy, as well as other ways to reduce the severity of fibromyalgia-related symptoms
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia consists of widespread pain, normally among the joints in the body. It is the single most common pain disorder experienced in the United States, with roughly 50 million citizens having reported having the condition. For the pain to be considered widespread, the experience must be on both sides of the body. The condition is often misdiagnosed, and as mentioned earlier can even go unnoticed for a number of years. This is due in part to the fact that the condition can be confused being over-stressed, lacking sleep, as well as other experiences that can be very common and reasonable to encounter with no serious health problems. In terms of women with fibromyalgia, the symptoms of the condition pose the potential for confusion with the regular feelings brought on by pregnancy.
Other common symptoms associated with fibromyalgia can include fatigue and difficulties in focusing. The condition can also exist alongside other painful conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and other classifications of headaches, painful bladder syndrome, as well as temporomandibular joint disorders (pain experienced in the jaw). Although the symptoms of fibromyalgia have been well-defined and have been associated with the condition for years, medical professionals are still unsure as to the actual cause. Theories surrounding the condition point to causes such as genetics, infections, as well as emotional or physical trauma. In terms of the potential cause due to genetics, fibromyalgia has been identified as being passed down from family members, which may be due to certain genetic mutations that result in the symptoms of the conditions.
The condition itself has undergone various methods by which medical professionals used to test for fibromyalgia. An earlier method was known as the “tender point exam,” where a doctor would firmly press on 18 specific points on the body, testing to see if the patient encountered pain when the points were pressed. As time progressed, new methods were adapted, which ultimately got rid of the tender point exam. One of the current baselines used for identifying fibromyalgia in patients is if the affected individual experiences pain for more than three months with no other medical condition relating to the pain felt during the given time period. In addition to this method, another technique has been employed when diagnosing fibromyalgia. This method includes blood tests, although no lab test is fully capable of confirming fibromyalgia. The blood tests very well can include a complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, cyclic citrullinated peptide test, rheumatoid factor, and thyroid function tests.
Just as the symptoms experienced with fibromyalgia can differ from one patient to another, the treatments can also differ. This being said, fibromyalgia has not up until this point had a cure, but is supplemented with various treatments and medications to reduce the severity of symptoms experienced by patients. One common approach includes the use of pain relievers, as the condition brings about painful symptoms. These can include non-prescription pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. On the other side of the spectrum, a prescription pain reliever that can be suggested by doctors is known as tramadol. Following pain relievers, another means of suppressing symptoms associated with fibromyalgia is the use of antidepressants. This method is said to help reduce the pain and fatigue that comes with the condition. These antidepressants include duloxetine (Cymbalta) and milnacipran (Savella). Another medication in this realm can include amitriptyline or cyclobenzaprine, as muscle relaxant. One of the last proposed forms of medication includes the use of anti-seizure drugs. Some of these types of drugs were created with the primary function to treat epilepsy, but have often seen applications in reducing specific type of pains. These drugs include Gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica).
The Future for Mothers and Mothers-To-Be with Fibromyalgia
As there is not a current cure for fibromyalgia, it's more important than ever for women who are pregnant with the condition to be diligent in their day to day tasks. This primarily includes a focus on choosing the correct treatments, so as to not harm the baby in the womb. Although various physical therapies and medications are important in creating a better pregnancy experience for women with fibromyalgia, one method, although seemingly simple, can make a world of a difference. This consists of a consistent support system provided by loved ones. The care provided by those close to the mother-to-be with fibromyalgia can include both physical and mental support, ultimately resulting in a more sound peace of mind, knowing that things will get better.
In addition to the potential for support by surrounding loved ones, the continuation of research regarding the treatment options must be proactive. Not only would this provide the opportunity for better pregnancy experiences, but also a greater future for the children born, as they will have a mother who can properly care for their child with significantly reduced pain and other symptoms related to fibromyalgia.