What is Fibromyalgia?
. . . and the 3 Ways to Know
If You Have It
by Laura Kossoff
Fibromyalgia is a neurological condition in which there is an abnormal level of neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain) that signal pain. A syndrome, not a disease, it is often referred to as a chronic pain disorder. As it is usually a combination of many symptoms (that may appear to be other health issues), fibromyalgia can be misunderstood and challenging to diagnose.
Approximately 10 million Americans are living with fibromyalgia.
The experience of fibromyalgia can vary widely among individuals. Common symptoms include:
- Widespread musculoskeletal pain
- Occurring on both sides of the body, above and below the waist
- Sensitivity in specific “tender points” located on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms and legs (there are 18 of them)
- Sleep disturbances
- Cognitive difficulties (memory, thinking and concentration) – known as “fibro fog”
- Sensitivity to light, sound, temperature and smells
- Digestive issues
- Anxiety and depression
The exact causes of fibromyalgia are not known. It is believed that the following can be factors:
- Emotional or physical trauma (e.g., car accident, injury and psychological stress)
- Hormonal changes
- Who It Affects
Fibromyalgia mostly affects adult women. Genetics may be a factor. You are more likely to have it if someone else in your family does. Research suggests that there may be a connection between genetic markers called HLAs (human leukocyte antigens) and fibromyalgia. You may be at greater risk of developing fibromyalgia if you have other rheumatic issues, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or osteoarthritis.
- Other issues
Those with fibromyalgia may also have one or more of the following:
- Cold, tingly hands and feet
- Frequent urination
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Your healthcare provider will likely ask you a lot of questions to find out the prevalence and severity of your symptoms. A physical exam may be performed, in addition to blood tests and x-rays to rule out other conditions, such as thyroid issues, arthritis and lupus.
Once these have been completed, your physician or health provider may ask about the following in making a determination about your condition. These are the three issues that are key in making a definitive fibromyalgia diagnosis:
1. Pain on both sides of your body, above and below the waist, plus the degree to which you experience:
· Waking unrefreshed
· Cognitive (memory or thought) problems
2. Symptoms lasting for at least three months
3. No other health issues as the source of these symptoms
– based on the Criteria Needed for a Fibromyalgia Diagnosis, American College of Rheumatology, 2010
While living with fibromyalgia can be painful and, at times, limiting, there is much hope. Although there is currently no single cure, there are many healing options. Working with traditional and complementary practitioners can offer many effective treatment choices. Symptoms can improve significantly and it is possible to live a more comfortable, fulfilling life.
Remedies usually focus on reducing pain, increasing sleep, strengthening mental focus and improving mood issues. A combination of medication, natural approaches and lifestyle changes may be suggested. These can include pain relief medicine, gentle exercise, yoga, tai chi, relaxation techniques, acupuncture, massage therapy, myofascial release, osteopathic treatments, chiropractic adjustments, nutritional supplements and herbs.
Consult with a qualified health professional if you think you may have fibromyalgia. Seek medical advice before taking any medications or supplements, implementing changes to your diet or incorporating new treatments into your life. The information and examples included in this article are only a partial listing of options available. Please discuss your individual health concerns with your healthcare provider to create a treatment plan that will address your needs.
Laura Kossoff is a woman living with fibromyalgia. As a health writer and researcher, it is her mission to help others become educated, make informed decisions and live fuller, happier lives.
“Fibromyalgia.” American College of Rheumatology. Updated March 2017 by Suleman Bhana, MD and reviewed by the American College of Rheumatology Committee on Communications and Marketing. https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Fibromyalgia. Accessed 9/1/17.
“Fibromyalgia.” Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Last updated: June 12, 2017. Content last reviewed: July 16, 2012. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/fibromyalgia. Accessed 9/1/17.
“Fibromyalgia: Overview.” Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/home/ovc-20317786. Accessed 9/1/17.
“Fibromyalgia: Symptoms and causes.” Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/symptoms-causes/dxc-20317796. Accessed 9/1/17.
“What is Fibromyalgia?” Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/fibromyalgia/what-is-fibromyalgia.php. Accessed 9/1/17.
“What is Fibromyalgia?” National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association. https://www.fmcpaware.org/aboutfibromyalgia.html. Accessed 9/1/17.
“What is Fibromyalgia?” WebMD. Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on August 26, 2017. http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/what-is-fibromyalgia. Accessed 9/1/17.
“What is Fibromyalgia: Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public.” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/fibromyalgia/fibromyalgia_ff.asp. Accessed 9/1/17.
All information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. You should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to your health and well-being.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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