Fibromyalgia

Everything You Need to Know

Living in constant pain is exhausting, stressful and extremely difficult. Fibromyalgia has no known cause, cannot be seen through scans or in your blood, yet it causes widespread pain, tiredness and a range of other unpleasant symptoms. Latest research shows it’s also fairly common, mostly in women. Despite how little we know about the origins of this condition, many people are learning to live with Fibromyalgia, and research is improving all the time. This guide will help if you have Fibromyalgia, think you might have it, or are caring for someone who does.

What is Fibromyalgia (FMS)?

Fibromyalgia (FMS) is a pain disorder. This means it isn’t technically rheumatic – although it can cause pain in joints and muscles like types of arthritis. The main symptoms are body-wide pain and extreme fatigue which affects your energy levels, sleep and memory. Many people with this disorder liken it to having a bad case of the flu, but more frequently. It mainly affects those aged 30-55 and is 7 times more likely to affect women, although younger people can also be affected.

What Symptoms Should I Be Looking For?

The main symptoms of Fibromyalgia are:

  • Pain: Whether mild or more severe, the pain is usually throughout the body, equal on both sides and is often described as burning, aching, stabbing or numb. The level of pain is often related to stress, weather conditions, sleep quality and lifestyle.
  • Sensitivity to touch: Doctors describe 18 “tender points” that occur symmetrically on the body which people with FMS may find more sensitive when touched there.
  • Fatigue: The extreme tiredness that comes with FMS can be worse than the pain and make it more difficult to deal with.
  • Sleep Problems: Whether you have trouble falling asleep or waking up, you will usually wake up not feeling refreshed.
  • Memory Problems: The term “Fibro Fog” was developed to describe an inability to think clearly, being forgetful, finding it difficult to pay attention or learn and retain information.

Alongside the main symptoms, many people with Fibromyalgia complain of additional common symptoms that seem to be related to the condition. Things to look out for include:

  • Depression: This might not come as a surprise for people who are in pain all of the time, but those with FMS are 20% more likely to develop anxiety and depression.
  • Bladder Problems: This usually involves having to urinate more than normal.
  • Headaches / Migraines: Face and jaw pain, alongside tension headaches and migraines are all commonly reported.
  • Pelvic Problems: Women with FMS may experience more painful and heavy periods.
  • Stomach Problems: Issues like constipation, bloating and diarrhoea are very common, as well as other Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.

What is Causing my Fibromyalgia?

With so many reported symptoms, it can be very difficult to identify a cause, and so far, research hasn’t come up with any conclusive answers. However, there are a lot of credible causes to give your attention to.

Firstly, there is likely a genetic component to the disorder. Researchers found that people with certain genes who undergo a trigger event (emotional stress or a traumatic physical event) promote the pain signals in their central nervous system to operate too highly and cause the widespread pain and consequent fatigue.

Secondly, levels of certain hormones in your blood might make you susceptible. Those with low serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine are lacking the ability to control their mood, sleep and stress response as well as those with normal levels. They also play a part in processing pain signals throughout the body which is a key factor of Fibromyalgia.

Finally, sleep problems in themselves are being investigated as a causal factor. Rather than simply being a symptom, poor sleep is theorised to lead to Fibromyalgia for some people. The extensive importance of sleep continues to increase as we research it more, and a lack of good quality sleep over time can cause a lot of damage both physically and mentally.

How Can I Get a Diagnosis?

One of the biggest problems with Fibromyalgia is how hard it is to diagnose. Making sure you see a Specialist who has experience with FMS is key. Usually you’ll undergo several steps:

  1. A full medical history will be taken, which will likely include that of your parents and siblings if you have them.
  2. You will also be given a physical examination which might include manipulation of the “tender points” to check for sensitivity.
  3. You may also be given blood tests, x-rays and urine tests to rule out other similar conditions that can be identified through these methods.

If there is no other likely cause for your pain, you will receive a positive diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. This can be a long and frustrating process, but preparing yourself with information, asking questions and making sure you get help from the right people will help a diagnosis come more smoothly.

Can Fibromyalgia be Treated?

As with most auto-immune disorders, there is still no cure for Fibromyalgia. But research remains ongoing, and treatment options are improving all the time. As we learn more about FMS, we move closer to improving the lives of all with the disorder. Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor will talk to you about what can be done to manage and ease your symptoms.

Medications

Whilst there are no specific medications solely for Fibromyalgia, there are medications that have been approved for use by FMS patients. These include medicines that interfere with the pain signals in your brain in terms of how much pain you can feel. Anti-inflammatories have also produced some good outcomes, whilst sleeping tablets and antidepressants can help with additional symptoms and promote a healthier routine.

Mental Health Care

Lots of people with Fibromyalgia have benefitted from talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), mindfulness practices such as meditation and stretching, and other relaxation techniques such as massage therapies.

Exercise

Performing moderate, low-impact exercise regularly has been shown to improve symptoms. Regular exercise can help you become healthier overall, regulate your sleeping patterns and quality and reduce stress.

How Do I Live with Fibromyalgia?

Being an active patient helps you gain some semblance of control over your life. Living with Fibromyalgia can be extremely tough, so having a support network of physicians, therapists, friends and family is vital. Open discussions about how you are feeling and what you need is key to getting through the bad days.

Remember that flare-ups will happen. It might be worth keeping a diary to try to identify patterns in your bad days to find some of the triggers which you can avoid in the future.

Try to practice good sleep hygiene. This can involve going to bed at a regular time, turning off screens a while before bedtime, using sleep medication when necessary and making conditions in your bedroom as ideal as possible.

Your diet and lifestyle have a big impact on your condition. Try to cut down or quit smoking, drink in moderation and eat healthily; lots of fresh fruit and vegetables with limited fat, salt and sugar.

In Conclusion

Fibromyalgia is a difficult diagnosis to receive and even more so to live with. Remember that you are not alone. This is a common condition that many people around the world live with every day, and so can you. By getting help from your doctor, surrounding yourself with friends and family who know what is going on, and making lifestyle changes to become healthier, you can improve your quality of life.

 

References

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fibromyalgia/

https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/fibromyalgia

https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/fibromyalgia.htm

https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Fibromyalgia

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