Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that is comprised of a set of symptoms. When they exist together, they imply the presence of a specific disease or a greater chance of developing the disease. With fibromyalgia syndrome, the following symptoms commonly occur together:
- anxiety or depression
- decreased pain threshold or tender points
- incapacitating fatigue
- widespread pain
Women are also more likely to get Fibromyalgia than men. More than 12 million Americans have fibromyalgia. Most of them are women ranging in age from 25 to 60. Women are 10 times more likely to get this disease than men.
Fibromyalgia causes you to ache all over. You may have symptoms of crippling fatigue — even on arising. Specific tender points on the body may be painful to touch. You may experience swelling, disturbances in deep-level or restful sleep, and mood disturbances or depression. Your muscles may feel like they have been overworked or pulled. They’ll feel that way even without exercise or another cause. Sometimes, your muscles twitch, burn, or have deep stabbing pain. Some patients with fibromyalgia have pain and achiness around the joints in the neck, shoulder, back, and hips. This makes it difficult for them to sleep or exercise.
Other fibromyalgia symptoms include:
- abdominal pain
- anxiety and depression
- chronic headaches
- difficulty maintaining sleep or light sleep
- dryness in mouth, nose, and eyes
- fatigue upon arising
- hypersensitivity to cold and/or heat
- inability to concentrate (called “fibro fog”)
- irritable bowel syndrome
- numbness or tingling in the fingers and feet
- painful menstrual cramps
Fibromyalgia can cause signs and feelings similar to osteoarthritis, bursitis, and tendinitis. Some experts include it in this group of arthritis and related disorders. But the pain of bursitis or tendinitis is localized to a specific area. The feelings of pain and stiffness with fibromyalgia are widespread.
There are no specific laboratory tests to diagnose fibromyalgia. To make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will rely on a comprehensive physical exam and your medical history. To rule out more serious illnesses, your doctor may run some specific blood tests. For example, your doctor may ask for a complete blood count (CBC). The doctor may also ask for tests for chemicals, such as glucose, that can create problems similar to problems caused by fibromyalgia. A thyroid test may also be done. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause problems similar to fibromyalgia. That includes fatigue, muscle aches, weakness, and depression.
Other laboratory tests used to rule out serious illnesses may include Lyme titers, antinuclear antibodies (ANA), rheumatoid factor (RF), erythrocyte (red blood cell) sedimentation rate (ESR), prolactin level, and calcium level.
Your doctor will also use a diagnosis of inclusion. That means your doctor will make sure your symptoms satisfy the diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia syndrome outlined by the American College of Rheumatology. These criteria include widespread pain that persists for at least three months. Widespread pain refers to pain that occurs in both the right and left sides of the body, both above and below the waist, and in the chest, neck, and mid or lower back. The criteria also include the presence of tender points at various spots on the body.
The doctor will evaluate the severity of related symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and mood disorders. This will help measure the impact FMS has on your physical and emotional function as well as on your overall health-related quality of life.
There is no fibromyalgia cure. And there is no treatment that will address all of the fibromyalgia symptoms. Instead, a wide array of traditional and alternative treatments has been shown to be effective in treating this difficult syndrome. A treatment program may include a combination of medications, exercises — both strengthening and aerobic conditioning — and behavioral techniques.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, drug therapy for fibromyalgia primarily treats the symptoms. The FDA has approved three drugs to treat fibromyalgia: Lyrica, Cymbalta, and Savella. The FDA says Lyrica — which is also used to treat nerve pain caused by shingles and diabetes — can ease fibromyalgia pain for some patients. Cymbalta and Savella are in a class of drugs known as serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
Low doses of tricyclic drugs such as Flexeril, Cycloflex, Flexiban, Elavil, or Endep have been found effective in treating the pain of FMS. In addition, positive results have been shown with the antidepressants known as dual reuptake inhibitors (Effexor). Ultram is a pain-relieving medicine that can be helpful.
Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant such as Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft. These drugs may help relieve feelings of depression, sleep disorders, and pain. Recently, researchers have found that the antiepileptic Neurontin is promising for fibromyalgia treatment.
The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), including Cox-2 inhibitors, have been found to be effective for treating FMS pain in some patients. However, it’s usually best to avoid opioid pain medications because they tend not to work well in the long-run and can lead to problems with dependency.
Low-dose naltrexone (LDN) is also shown to decrease brain inflammation, which is theorized to contribute to pain in patients with Fibromyalgia. Learn more below:
Alternative therapies, although often not as well-tested, can also help manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia. For instance, therapeutic massage manipulates the muscles and soft tissues of the body and helps ease deep muscle pain. It also helps relieve pain of tender points, muscles spasms, and tense muscles. Similarly, myofascial release therapy, which works on a broader range of muscles, can gently stretch, soften, lengthen, and realign the connective tissue to ease discomfort.
The American Pain Society recommends moderately intense aerobic exercise at least two or three times a week. They also endorses clinician-assisted treatments, such as hypnosis, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and chiropractic manipulation for pain relief.
Along with alternative therapies, it’s important to allow time each day to rest and relax. Relaxation therapies — such as deep muscle relaxation or deep breathing exercises — may help reduce the added stress that can trigger fibromyalgia symptoms. Having a regularly scheduled bedtime is also important. Sleep is essential to let the body repair itself.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for pain and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia can both improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia. CBT is a type of talk therapy that encourages patients to change their unhelpful thoughts and behaviors through the help of a psychologist or other mental health counselor. Studies have shown that these therapies can reduce anxiety, depression and fear of pain in individuals with fibromyalgia.