Fibromyalgia is a non-inflammatory ailment that consists of chronic pain which is diffused throughout the entirety of the body. It is generally accompanied by the presence of certain areas of the body that are painful to the touch, as well as an array of other symptoms including fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Unlike other rheumatic diseases, fibromyalgia pain is not located strictly at the level of the joints and is not accompanied by swelling, unless it occurs simultaneously with an inflammatory rheumatic condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The causes of fibromyalgia have not been established completely yet. It has been noticed that many patients suffering from this condition relate its onset following a physically traumatic event, or after an episode of intense psychological distress. There is also a genetic tendency to pass on fibromyalgia on the maternal side of the family, which means that if your mother suffers from this disease, there are chances you might also develop it at some point in your life.
The development of fibromyalgia is influenced by a series of risk factors, such as female sex, age (it most frequently occurs between the ages of 20 and 55, and chances to develop it grow along with age), family medical history, psychosocial stress, coexisting inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, and physical trauma.
The main manifestation of the disease is pain. Fibromylagia starts off gradually, with local pain (spinal, cervical, lumbar) which ulteriorly spreads throughout the body. This pain affects both the upper and the lower parts of the body. Patients suffering from fibromyalgia usually attribute the pain to bones or muscles and notice a growth in intensity during times of stress, physical effort, lack of sleep or temperature changes.
Symptoms can be stronger in the morning, accompanied by morning stiffness, and also after prolonged repose (one hour or more). This is a very similar symptom to inflammatory joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Fatigue might dominate the symptom palette, due to lack of rest during sleep. Generally, symptoms vary in intensity, but have a tendency to accentuate as time goes by and can even lead to a decrease in social function and quality of life. Over time, patients may experience mood swings, anxiety and depression.
Depending on your particular health condition, other symptoms may occur at the level of various organs and systems in your body, such as:
- digestive system: nausea, acidity, intestinal transit disorders (diarrhea, constipation, chronic abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting)
- genital and urinary system: chronic pelvic pain, cystitis, frequent urination, menstrual pain
- cardio-respiratory system: non-cardiac thoracic pain, rise in pulse, dysfunctional breathing during sleep, Raynaud syndrome
- eyes: sight impairments, dryness at the level of the eye
- neuropsychological: migraines, chronic headaches, sleeping disorders, concentration and memory disorders, depression, anxiety, restless leg syndrome
- skin: dry skin, itchiness, rashes
Although the criteria for the diagnosis of fibromyalgia have been established in the 1990s, they are still valid today and are used by medical physicians throughout the world when faced with this illness. According to these criteria, fibromyalgia patients need to experience pain for a period of over 3 months, on both sides of the body (left and right, upper and lower), including the axial skeleton (cervical, lumbar, thorax). The patient also must experience pain in 11 out of the total of 18 critical pain points of the body, upon examination by his or her physician. These points are symmetrically distributed on both sides of the body.
There is no known treatment that can completely cure fibromyalgia. The purpose of the treatment is to reduce the symptoms and improve the overall health condition of the patient. A correct approach to treating fibromyalgia must involve both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical methods. Options may vary depending on the intensity of the pain and associated symptoms. Non-pharmaceutical remedies for fibromyalgia include: gradual exercise, hydrokinetotherapy, relaxation techniques, massage, psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Patients suffering from fibormyalgia must be aware of the fact that, upon taking up physical therapy, the pain might worsen. However, physical exercise must not be interrupted due to this. Studies have shown that fibromyalgia patients that perform some sort of physical activity (aerobics, water gymnastics, stretching, swimming, walking or bicycle riding) evolve better in terms of symptom diminishing.
The patient also plays a very important role in the treatment of fibromyalgia. They must take up a healthier lifestyle by avoiding stress, getting plenty of rest and sleep, starting a regular physical exercise schedule and maintaining a healthy diet. Alternative therapy is also risk-free and can be considered as an adjacent treatment plan in controlling pain and stress levels. The best solutions in this respect are acupuncture, yoga and tai-chi. Tai-chi is a great option for patients that cannot perform intense physical workouts.
Painkillers such as Paracetamol, Tramadol, Naproxene, Ibuprofen etc. are used in order to control pain. Strong opium-based pharmaceuticals are not recommended. Non-steroid anti-inflammatory medicine has also been proved to be quite useless in the treatment of fibromyalgia. Antidepressants are also a great treatment option because they help both with pain and fatigue.
Some other pharmaceutical drugs have been known to be effective in the treatment of this condition, but there are some side effects that need to be taken into consideration. Medicinal treatment methods can affect the digestive system greatly. Most painkillers can cause great damage to the gastro-intestinal tract if not administered wisely, therefore you must be very careful when you choose this treatment option.
If you are suffering from fibromyalgia, it is best that you consult your doctor in order to establish an appropriate treatment plan. Although there are some options that seem to be universally suggested by medical studies, a correct treatment plan must take into account your own personal needs and characteristics, such as prior medical history, age, weight and so on. Therefore, make sure you discuss any treatment plan with your doctor first. An appropriate treatment is the best choice you can make if you suffer from fibromyalgia, and the only way you can come to it is by requesting an informed opinion on the matter.