What Is Fibromyalgia - Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

What Is Fibromyalgia - Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Find out about the syndrome commonly called 'fibromyalgia'

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome affecting the muscles, joints and bones. The pain is commonly experienced all over the body, rather than in any one part. The symptoms are considered subjective and are hard to measure or test for. It’s for this reason that cases of fibromyalgia are often misdiagnosed and misunderstood.

While there is no cure, there are treatments aimed at addressing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Many people find that a combination of medication, exercise, stress management and other health habits help them to manage the condition. This article covers common causes of fibromyalgia, diagnosis and treatment types.

 

What causes fibromyalgia?

Many researchers and doctors don’t consider fibromyalgia a real condition. Rather, they call it a ‘syndrome’ and try to treat the individual symptoms in order to reduce or better manage pain levels.

A syndrome can be defined as:

A group of symptoms which consistently occur together, despite not having a clearly define reason or cause.

Some health professionals think fibromyalgia is a problem associated with how the brain processes information from the nerves. If there is a blockage in this communication channel, bodily functions may be impacted and in particular, the pain receptors may ‘misfire’.

We do know that the following factors may increase one’s chances of getting fibromyalgia:

  • Being a woman
  • Having another painful disease like arthritis   
  • Being prone to depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • A family history of fibromyalgia

 

What are the symptoms?

The primary symptom is aches and pains all over the body. More specifically, be on the lookout for the following:    

  • Muscle pain or burning
  • Twitching or tension muscles
  • Sensitivity and a reduced pain threshold    
  • Lack of energy and fatigue
  • Memory issues
  • Sleep problems   
  • Depression, anxiety or mood swings

These symptoms may seem general in nature. However when all of them are present over a period of time, a fibromyalgia diagnosis is more likely.

Other fibromyalgia symptoms may include:

  • Stomach pain and digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth, nose, and eyes
  • Reactions to cold and heat, light and sound
  • Facial numbness or tingling in your extremities

 

If I have these symptoms, will I receive a fibromyalgia diagnosis?

Possibly. As fibromyalgia is more of a syndrome and not a specific disease, you may be given a fibromyalgia diagnosis.

There's no test that will give a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Rather, your doctor will look to assess your symptoms and may want to rule out other illnesses.  If your doctor can't find another explanation for your symptoms, they may switch to a two-part scoring system. This measures how widespread your pain is and how much it is affecting your daily life.  

Both the score results and your doctor’s assessment will be used to come up with a plan to manage the condition.

 

What are my treatment options?

Depending on your symptoms, there are a number of possible treatment options. These include the following:

  • Pain relievers
  • Antidepressants
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Sleep aids
  • Chiropractic or manual therapy

 

Note: Supermarket painkillers may help with pain relief however be aware of the negative side effects associated with stronger medicines, like opioids. Opioid painkillers may only mask the pain and could lead to longer-term drug addiction problems. You can read more about common drugs used to treat fibromyalgia symptoms here.

Manual therapies, such as chiropractic or physiotherapy may help. These therapies aim to increase your movement, improve your posture and keep your body flexible. This may help with pain management.

Another key coping strategy is regular to moderate exercise. You'll want to partake in low-impact activities such as walking, yoga and Pilates. These activities build endurance, stretch and strengthen your muscles.

Of course, if you have concerns about fibromyalgia or you think your symptoms match the symptoms listed in this article, please consult with your local G.P.

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