Often called an invisible illness because the symptoms of fibromyalgia are not always easily seen, fibromyalgia is nevertheless a chronic condition that affects approximately five to ten million people in the U.S. Anyone can be affected, but the majority of sufferers are women.
Fibromyalgia causes widespread pain and tenderness in the tendons, ligaments, and muscles of the body.
It is diagnosed mainly by determining what it isn’t. Often, physicians will rule out other disorders (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) before diagnosis. The symptoms of fibromyalgia can vary from person to person and can also vary in intensity from day to day.
Fibromyalgia sufferers report experiencing some or all of the following:
- Sleep disturbances (apnea or insomnia)
- Widespread pain
- Mental health issues (depression or anxiety)
- Cognitive issues (problems with memory and “fibro fog”)
Stress can worsen these symptoms, and sometimes they are accompanied by irritable bowel syndrome or other digestive disorders.
There is no known cause of fibromyalgia, but researchers believe that neurotransmitter dysfunction may play a role. Additionally, genetic studies indicate that certain people may be predisposed to fibromyalgia. In this case, the illness may not begin until a patient experiences considerable stress or trauma. Fibromyalgia can be triggered by other conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, in those people who are genetically predisposed.
Patients with fibromyalgia also generally have low levels of serotonin and may experience pain more intensely due to an abnormality in sensory processing in the central nervous system that lowers their pain threshold.
Treatment for fibromyalgia is as complex and individualized as the symptoms themselves.
A combination of prescription and over-the-counter medicines may be used. Exercise, including gentle stretching and strengthening exercise, is prescribed as a way to manage pain and help with sleep and mood disorders that result.
There is no known cure for this illness, but some patients report a lessening of symptoms by using a combination of the above in conjunction with other alternative therapies such as homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, and massage.
Tell us: Do you suffer from fibromyalgia or know someone who does? What treatments work best for them?
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