A patient with fibromyalgia typically presents with the following:
- Widespread pain: The pain is constant and dull and lasts for at least three months. The pain occurs throughout the body, on both sides of the body, and below and above the waist. Aches may be moderate to unbearable.
- Fatigue: Patients with fibromyalgia are always tired, and they even wake up feeling tired, despite sleeping for long periods of time. The pain can even cause sleep disturbance. Patients also have other sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea (temporary cessation of breathing during sleep).
- Cognitive difficulties: This is also referred to as “fibro fog.” Fibromyalgia affects the ability to focus and pay attention to mental tasks.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by widespread pain in the body. It may be accompanied by tiredness, sleep disturbances, memory problems, and depressed moods. Some people may also experience frequent urination. Fibromyalgia is more common in women than in men. Many patients with fibromyalgia may also have other associated conditions such as tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety, or depression.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder that may affect you on a long-term basis. You must discuss with your doctor the various treatment options. Timely and proper treatment can help reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life.
What causes fibromyalgia?
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but various factors are found to play a role in fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is believed to be caused by chemical imbalance in the brain. Due to this chemical imbalance, the brain interprets even “touch” or “poke” as pain.
The causes of fibromyalgia are as follows:
- Genetics: Fibromyalgia has been found to run in families. There may be certain genetic mutations that increase the risk of this disorder.
- Infections: Certain systemic illnesses may trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia.
- Physical or emotional trauma: Fibromyalgia can sometimes be triggered by acute psychological stress or physical trauma such as an accident, death of a loved one, and breakdown of a relationship.
- Chemical transmitters: Individuals with fibromyalgia have low levels of certain chemicals in the body. These chemicals include the hormone serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. This causes pains at various body sites.
What are the risk factors for fibromyalgia?
Risk factors for fibromyalgia are as follows:
How is fibromyalgia treated?
Treatment options for fibromyalgia are as follows:
- Painkillers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil (ibuprofen), and prescription painkillers can help reduce symptoms. Narcotics are not usually used because they can lead to dependence and may worsen the pain over time.
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants such as Cymbalta (duloxetine) or Savella (milnacipran) and muscle relaxants may be prescribed to help reduce pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia.
- Antiseizure medication: Medications used to treat epilepsy may be useful in reducing certain types of pain.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises that will improve your strength, flexibility, and stamina. Water-based exercises might be particularly helpful.
- Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist can help you adjust your work area or the way you perform certain tasks that will cause less stress on your body.
- Stress management: Managing physical and emotional stress is essential in the treatment of fibromyalgia. Stress management techniques such as deep-breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation can help. Seeking help from a professional therapist may be required.
- Adequate sleep: Because fatigue is one of the characteristic presentations of fibromyalgia, sufficient rest and practicing good sleep hygiene are essential.
- Exercise and diet: Initially, exercise can increase pain, but exercising regularly reduces pain gradually. Exercises may include walking, swimming, biking, water aerobics, yoga, or dance. A physical therapist can help develop an exercise regimen. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and limiting caffeine intake are important in the management of fibromyalgia.
- Lifestyle modification: Do not make any sudden changes in your lifestyle. Always start the medications with the lowest possible dose.
What happens if you go untreated for fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is typically not life threatening but can affect your quality of life. Pain, fatigue, and lack of sleep that occur in fibromyalgia can impair the ability to function at home or at work. Patients may also feel frustrated due to their condition, and this can lead to anxiety or depression. With appropriate treatment, these complications can be managed.
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