Do body aches often take a toll on your enthusiasm at work or your general wellbeing at home? Do you often feel that every part of your body seems to be aching and a trip to your local clinic did not quite bring you any relief? You could be suffering from Fibromyalgia, the exact cause of which cannot be pin-pointed even by physicians.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain in muscles and soft tissues all over the body. It can affect your neck, shoulders, back, chest, hips, buttocks, arms, and legs. The pain may be worse in the morning and evening, and sometimes the pain may last all day long. It can also get worse with activity, cold weather, or if you have any anxiety or stress. Since a clear diagnosis is not always possible, management of symptoms, however, seems to be the only way forward.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine (www.hopkinsmedicine.org), this condition affects around 1 in 50 to 1 in 25 people in the US and is most common in middle-aged women.The average age range at which fibromyalgia is diagnosed is 35 to 45 years old, but most people have had symptoms, including chronic pain, that started much earlier in life.
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown but it can often be triggered by a stressful event, including physical stress or emotional (psychological) stress. Other possible triggers for the condition include injury or a viral infection.
Researchers think there may be a link with sleep problems and stress. It may also be linked to immune, endocrine, or biochemical problems. Pain may start in one part of your body, such as your neck and shoulders but any part of the body can be affected.
The pain ranges from mild to severe. It may feel like burning, soreness, stiffness, aching, or gnawing pain. You may have sore spots in certain parts of your muscles. Sometimes, it may feel like arthritis, but it’s not a condition that gets worse and it doesn’t damage muscles or bones.
Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
Medium to severe tiredness (fatigue)
Less exercise endurance
Sleep problems at night
Irritable bowel symptoms (pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation)
Painful menstrual periods
Trouble thinking clearly
Diagnosis and management
These symptoms can seem like other health conditions. Hence, one should see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis to rule out other conditions. There are no tests that can confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Instead, diagnosis is based on your symptoms, a physical exam, and possibly ruling out other conditions.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but symptoms can be managed. Mild cases may get better with stress reduction or lifestyle changes. More severe cases may need to be treated with a team including a rheumatologist, a physical therapist, and a pain management expert.
One may consider a host of treatment options to ease pain as well as reduce discomfort in many ways. These include:
Other pain medicines
Medicines approved for treating fibromyalgia
Medicines to ease depression
Exercise and physical therapy
Women with fibromyalgia may experience heightened or different symptoms compared with men. Because fibromyalgia peaks in women during the reproductive years, female hormones are also believed to play a role in the higher incidence and severity of the disorder in women.
Women are more likely to experience fatigue in the morning, pain all over the body, and symptoms specific to irritable bowel syndrome. Other symptoms common to women may involve those connected with menstruation. Since fibromyalgia can affect the menstrual cycle, periods may be heavier, and women may experience painful menstruation.
As fibromyalgia can affect sleeping patterns, one may want medicines to aid sleep. If you sleep well, you may find that other symptoms are not as severe.
If you have muscle stiffness or spasms (when the muscles contract painfully) as a result of fibromyalgia, your GP may prescribe a short course of a muscle relaxant. These medicines may also help you sleep better because they can have a sedative (sleep-inducing) effect.
There are other treatment options that can be helpful to cope with the pain of fibromyalgia. These include:
Swimming, sitting or exercising in a heated pool or warm water.
An individually tailored exercise programme.
Relaxation techniques – Meditation, breathing exercises, yoga.
Psychotherapy that helps you think/tackle problems more positively.