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Fibromyalgia: The Basics

Updated on October 3, 2017
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Fibromyalgia is a disorder that involves widespread pain accompanied by fatigue and mood issues. Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change, affecting the way they process pain signals. While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there are a multitude of methods that can help control and reduce symptoms.

Symptoms

  • Widespread pain: The pain of fibromyalgia is a constant dull ache. The pain occurs on both sides of the body, as well as above and below the waist.
  • Fatigue: Those with fibromyalgia frequently have issues with sleep and wake up tired, regardless of how long they have slept.
  • Cognitive issues: The ability to pay attention, focus, and concentrate is greatly reduced. This is commonly referred to as “fibro fog.”
  • Other: Issues such as headaches, depression, and cramping are not uncommon.

Causes & Risk Factors

While doctors are not completely sure what actually causes fibromyalgia, they do agree that a variety of factors contribute to its development. Some of these factors include:

  • Genetics: Evidence shows that those who have family members with fibromyalgia are eight times more likely to develop it themselves.
  • Physical or emotional trauma: PTSD has been linked to fibromyalgia.
  • Certain infections: Rheumatic diseases, the Epstein-Barr virus, and viruses that cause and hepatitis B and C are linked to the development fibromyalgia.
  • Your sex: It is estimated that 90% of patients with fibromyalgia are female.

Diagnosis

Although there isn’t a specific test to confirm a fibromyalgia diagnosis, a diagnosis can typically be made if the patient has experienced widespread pain consistently over the course of at least three months. The patient must have no underlying medical condition that could be causing this pain.

Treatment

Treatment for fibromyalgia involves both medication and self-care. Both are critical in the management of symptoms. Common medications that can help reduce the pain of fibromyalgia include:

  • Pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure drugs
  • Lyrica - the first drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of fibromyalgia

Helpful self-care techniques include:

  • Therapy
  • Stress reduction & relaxation
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising in moderation
  • Eating healthy foods & limiting caffeine
  • Doing something enjoyable and fulfilling every day

Aside from dealing with the psychical symptoms of fibromyalgia, many experience the frustration of having a condition that's often misunderstood. Educating yourself, your family, and your friends in order to maintain a strong support system is a great way to remind yourself that you are not alone.

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