Fibromyalgia Information - What are the Causes?
I’ve heard the term fibromyalgia a lot throughout the years. I’ve watched people I love deal with the pain. I’ve seen the condition come to light, finally, as a real ailment that wasn’t just in a person’s mind. But what do I really know about this debilitating condition? Well, I know my mom suffers from it. I know she is in pain more often than not and the slightest touch can leave her hurting for hours. I know nobody believed her condition was real for years so she suffered alone. I know the pain can gnaw at a sufferer until he or she is exhausted and depressed and on the edge of giving up. But what causes fibromyalgia? How can a person deal with fibromyalgia? And does it run in the family? Will I end up with this condition I’ve watched my mom struggle with over the years?
The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines fibromyalgia as “…a common syndrome in which a person has long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues.” Fibro is a chronic pain disorder that affects about 5 million Americans. It is most common among women aged 20 to 50 and the cause is unknown. Some possible causes or triggers include physical or emotional trauma, an abnormal pain response, sleep disturbances, and infection or virus – although no single one has been identified. Fibromyalgia may be genetic but no specific genes have been identified. Some doctors believe hormonal or chemical imbalances in the body disrupt the way nerves signal pain. Others suggest a traumatic event or prolonged stress may increase a person’s chances of getting fibro.
Because fibromyalgia does not show up on lab tests or x-rays patients were once told the pain was psychosomatic – in their heads. But the pain is all too real. Even though tests do not show the condition blood work may be done to rule out any other possible illnesses. The painful areas of fibromyalgia are called tender points and can be found in the soft tissue on the back of the neck, shoulders, chest, lower back, hips, shins, elbows, and knees with the pain radiating out from the tender points. The pain can feel like a deep ache or a shooting, burning pain. The joints are not affected although the pain can sometimes feel like it is coming from them. Some fibromyalgia patients wake up with pain and body aches or stiffness, for some the pain improves during the day but gets worse at night, and for others the pain stays all day long. Fibro is often accompanied by fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety or depression, and specific tender points. Less common symptoms include irritable bowel syndrome, memory and concentration problems known as fibro fog, numbness and tingling of the hands and feet, palpitations, and reduced ability or tolerance to exercise due to the pain it causes, and tension or migraine headaches.
Doctors once used the tender points as the primary tool for diagnosing fibromyalgia. In order to reach a diagnosis a person had to have tenderness to the touch at 11 or more of the 18 specified tender points and widespread pain all over the body for at least 3 months. Recently, however, doctors have started diagnosing fibro using a pain index and a measure of key symptoms and severity. The symptom scale of the exam includes unrefreshing sleep, fatigue, and cognitive issues – the fibro fog. The symptoms are then rated on a scale from 0 to 3.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia there are several steps you can take to keep flare-ups to a minimum and to help you cope with the day-to-day symptoms of the condition. First you should try to identify what makes your symptoms worse and avoid those triggers as much as possible. Certain activities, cold or damp weather, poor sleep, anxiety, and stress can all make fibromyalgia worse. The goal of fibro treatment is to minimize pain, sleep disturbances, and mood disorders. Medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, may be prescribed to help ease symptoms of pain, depression, and poor sleep. Exercise can also relieve several fibromyalgia symptoms by reducing pain, improving fitness, and relieving fatigue and depression. Walking, stretching, and water aerobics are all good, low-impact exercises for the management of the symptoms. Diet can also play a role in managing fibromyalgia. Certain foods such as aspartame, MSG, caffeine, and tomatoes seem to worsen the symptoms. However, these foods may not be your specific triggers. Other foods may bother you personally and you will have to find out what works best for you. Massage may also help relieve fibro pain. Practitioners say applying moderate pressure – as in rubbing, kneading, and stroking – is much more important than technique. Acupuncture is yet another way to ease symptoms, though formal studies of this practice have produced mixed results. Acupressure works the same as acupuncture but pressure is applied to tender points rather than inserting needles. Fibro fog is the cognitive issue a sufferer of fibro usually contends with at some point that leads to poor concentration. Treatment for pain and insomnia may help but a patient can also take other steps to improve his or her focus, such as keeping notes about daily activities, keeping a sharp mind with reading and writing, and breaking up tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Stress appears to be one of the most common triggers of fibromyalgia flare-ups. Minimizing stress in your life may minimize flare-ups and symptoms. Some great methods of reducing stress are yoga, meditation or other relaxation techniques.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition but it can be treated. The good news is that fibro does not damage joints, muscles, or internal organs. The bad news is that you may have to really work to determine your best course of action for minimizing symptoms.