Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals. It affects about 2 percent of the U.S. population and affects seven times more women than men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On its own, fibromyalgia is usually a nonfatal disease. It only accounted for about 23 deaths a year between 1979 and 1998, according to the CDC. The mortality rate of fibromyalgia patients is comparable to patients with osteoarthritis, but their risk of death from suicide and accidents is higher than the general population, according to a 2010 study that followed 8,186 U.S. fibromyalgia patients between 1974 and 2009.
Interestingly enough, Fibromyalgia is also often associated with psychiatric disorders. Adults with fibromyalgia are 3.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than people without the disease, according to the CDC.
A 2008 study that looked at 76 adolescents with fibromyalgia found that 67.1 percent of patients had at least one current psychiatric diagnosis, and 71.5 percent had at least one lifetime psychiatric diagnosis, with more than half of the psychiatric diagnoses being anxiety disorder. Many people who have fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and depression.
It is believed that Fibromyalgia itself isn’t what causes the psychiatric disorders, but difficulty managing the symptoms and pain every day leads sufferers to depression and anxiety disorders.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Part of the difficulty diagnosing Fibromyalgia stems from the unknown causes. Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. Other times, the symptoms gradually build up over time without one significant event triggering them.
The main fibromyalgia signs and symptoms include deep muscle pain, painful tender points, and stiffness in the morning. Other major symptoms of fibromyalgia include fatigue, anxiety and trouble sleeping.
Some other common symptoms of Fibromyalgia (sometimes referred to as FMS) may include:
• Concentration and memory problems — known as “fibro fog”
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Morning stiffness
• Painful menstrual cramps
• Sleep problems
• Numbness, and tingling in hands, arms, feet, and legs
• Tender points
• Urinary symptoms, such as pain or frequency
Widespread pain is the most common complaint, characteristic of more than 97%of patients with fibromyalgia. In fact, pain is usually what forces a person with fibromyalgia to see his or her doctor in the first place.
Unlike the joint pain of osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia pain is felt over the entire body as a whole. The pain isn’t always specific – it can be a deep, sharp, dull, throbbing, or aching and is pain that’s felt in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the joints.
For some people with Fibromyalgia, the pain comes and goes. The pain also seems to travel throughout the body, starting in one place and moving throughout.
Next to pain and tender points, fatigue is another major complaint. The fatigue felt by people suffering from Fibromyalgia is described as a lingering tiredness that is more constant and limiting than what we would usually expect. Some patients complain of being tired even when they should feel rested, such as when they’ve had enough sleep. Some patients report the fatigue of fibromyalgia as being similar to symptoms of flu. Some compare it to how it feels after working long hours and missing a lot of sleep.
With fibromyalgia, you may feel:
• Fatigue on arising in the morning
• Fatigue after mild activity such as grocery shopping or cooking dinner
• Too fatigued to start a project such as folding clothes or ironing
• Too fatigued to exercise
• More fatigued after exercise
• Too fatigued for sex
• Too fatigued to function adequately at work
Neurological complaints, such as numbness, tingling, and burning, are often present with Fibromyalgia as well. While the causes of these feelings is unclear, numbness or tingling sensations in the hands, arms, or legs are felt by more than half of the people with fibromyalgia.
The feelings may be especially strong in the mornings along with stiffness on arising. The medical term for these sensations is paresthesia. The sensations usually happen at irregular times. When they do occur, they may last a few minutes or they may be constant. While the sensations can be bothersome, they are not severely limiting.
Other common symptoms include:
– Irritable bowel syndrome
– Frequent urination
– Painful menstrual cramps
– Restless leg syndrome
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, Fibromyalgia patients are seeing much improved quality of live with regular physical activity. Physical therapists are showing people with fibromyalgia how to relieve symptoms of pain and stiffness in everyday life.
These health care professionals teach people with fibromyalgia how to build strength and improve their range of motion, ways to get relief from deep muscle pain, and how to make sensible decisions about daily activities that will prevent painful flare-ups.
Here is a great resource from webmd.com of Fibromyalgia friendly exercises.
Regular physical therapy programs have been shown to help people manage the pain of Fibromyalgia as they focus on lifestyle changes rather than on the chronic problems of pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
The foundation of using physical therapy and movement to manage the pain is to learn proper posture. It allows efficient muscle function that results in being able to avoid undue fatigue and pain. In addition, the therapist may use slow stretching exercises to help improve muscle flexibility. Relaxation exercises are also important for helping to reduce muscle tension.
Unfortunately, there is no one “pill” that treats or cures Fibromyalgia. A multidisciplinary approach that uses both medication and alternative or lifestyle strategies seems to work best to treat the symptoms.
As with many conditions, people with Fibromyalgia often have good days and bad. This is especially true when psychological disorders like depression and anxiety accompany the symptoms. With proper treatment, including regular exercise, most people have good symptom relief. However, the pain easily returns in periods of stress or overexertion. Over time, you will learn what helps you work through these painful episodes and how to help prevent them.
People who continue to stay active socially as well as physically, despite their pain, end up doing best.
If you suffer from Fibromyalgia and are still suffering despite traditional treamtments, check out Our Approach to the condition, and schedule a consultation with Dr. Castelli to learn more.