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Do I Have Fibromyalgia? An Overview

Published May 10, 2019
Tags:  Nerve Pain
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Highlights:

  • Fibromyalgia is commonly called an “invisible” illness. Its causes are not commonly understood and treating it can be challenging for doctors.
  • An estimated 10 million Americans live with fibromyalgia, which is characterized by acute to chronic pain in the muscles and joints.
  • Excessive stress, changes in weather patterns, physical overexertion, poor diet, and hormonal changes can trigger fibromyalgia flare ups.
  • Since fibromyalgia mirrors the symptoms of other conditions, it's important to consult a doctor for a diagnosis and to rule out other health problems.
  • Fibromyalgia can be treated with medications, but lifestyle changes are the recommended treatment option.


Fibromyalgia is a health condition in which the exact symptoms of the disease are not clear. Symptoms of fibromyalgia include fatigue, poor sleep, body pain, mood issues, etc. but if you have these symptoms, it doesn’t mean that you have fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia symptoms may occur individually or along with other health issues. So, patients and doctors alike find it hard to know which symptom is a result of which problem. Things get more complicated as fibromyalgia symptoms come and go.


What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder in which a person has widespread pain throughout the body, particularly in the bones and muscles. Fibromyalgia is not a single disease, but it is a network of several symptoms causing higher sensitivity to pain, heightened tenderness and fatigue, and emotional and mental distress. Most people with fibromyalgia will experience two or more symptoms simultaneously.

Thankfully, fibromyalgia is not a life-threatening condition and can be treated through self-care as directed by a physician.


What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Unfortunately, medical professionals and researchers have no idea of what causes fibromyalgia. Most people agree that there are a few factors that may cause fibromyalgia, which include genetics, chemical imbalances, infections, trauma, and stress.

In some cases, external factors can trigger fibromyalgia. These stimuli include an injury, giving birth, surgery, or difficult medical procedures.

 

How is it Diagnosed?

Though there are no lab tests that can detect fibromyalgia, doctors may use blood tests and other diagnostic tools to ensure that a person has no other causes of chronic pain. Medical experts use the following diagnostic criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia based on a patient meeting three conditions:

  1. Elevated widespread pain index (WPI) score (a test that measures pain points and severity associated with fibromyalgia symptoms)
  2. Symptoms have been present at a similar level for at least three months.
  3. The patient does not have a disorder that would otherwise explain the pain.


Trigger Points 

There are many contributing triggers to a Fibromyalgia flare up. Here are some of the most common:

  • Physical stress. Overexerting at the gym, at work, or during physical activity.
  • Mental stress. Psychological burdens like job loss, worry, financial insecurity, and other mentally taxing stresses can trigger fibromyalgia.
  • Temperature changes. Unexpected or intense weather changes for which you are not physically or psychologically prepared can also trigger fibromyalgia. 
  • Hormonal changes. Chemical changes caused by premenopause and menopause can cause an occurrence of fibromyalgia. 
  • Poor diet. Having an unhealthy diet complete with foods that increase inflammation can trigger fibromyalgia. People with this condition should aim for foods rich in lean protein and fiber, and low in carbohydrates. 


Similar Conditions

Many other health conditions have the same symptoms as fibromyalgia. If you suspect you have fibromyalgia, the doctor may test you for some or most of these. A few similar conditions include interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and tension headache.


Fibromyalgia Indicators & Symptoms

Though there are many fibromyalgia indicators & symptoms and different people dealing with fibromyalgia have different symptoms, there are some fibromyalgia symptoms that are widely known. Some of them are listed here.

  • Pain. According to fmcpaware.org, Pain that migrates to different parts of the body and varies in intensity is a common symptom of fibromyalgia. The pain can be worse in the mornings and can be triggered by things like excessive physical activity or anxiety. 
  • Fatigue. When a person has fibromyalgia, the person might feel all-encompassing exhaustion and poor stamina that can impact the social, personal, occupational, and even educational activities. 
  • Sleep Issues. People who have fibromyalgia often complain of poor sleep quality or lack of sleep. According to a study, pain affects the sleep quality which further impairs sustained attention. 


Who Gets Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia affects about 10 million people in the U.S., and it affects around 3 to 6 percent of the world population. It is more prevalent in women as up to 90 percent of those who have it are women. It is seen in families, with mothers and the children usually more vulnerable. Fibromyalgia can impact people of all ethnic backgrounds.


How is it Treated?

There is no single treatment option for fibromyalgia that works for most people who suffer from this chronic condition. Below are common home remedies and conservative therapies patients use to treat fibromyalgia.

  • An active exercise program. Regular exercises under the guidance of your physician can help boost health and manage pain. 
  • Psychotherapy. Regular meetings with a therapist can help patients navigate through stresses, change, and other mental and emotional triggering events associated with fibromyalgia.
  • Acupuncture. In this treatment, thin and dry needles are inserted into the skin to boost the production of endorphins (the hormones that create feelings of happiness).
  • Massage. Massage therapy can help with muscle pain and joint tension associated with fibromyalgia. 
  • OTC pain relievers. Standard over-the-counter pain relievers can aid with managing and relieving inflammation.
  • Anti-depressants (Low Dose). Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help alleviate mental and emotional distress caused by fibromyalgia.
  • Chiropractic care. Getting the right amount of chiropractic care can help get rid of or reduce several symptoms of fibromyalgia such as pain, fatigue, poor quality sleep. 
  • Physical therapy. Visiting a physical therapist and getting treatments like deep tissue massage to ice and heat packs for hydrotherapy might help with pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
  • Ozone therapy. This alternate form of treatment aims at increasing the amount of oxygen into the body. Increased oxygen helps with blood flow and circulation. 


Medications for Fibromyalgia

There are three main medications for treating fibromyalgia. They are mentioned below:

  • Pregabalin (Lyrica). This medication reduces pain and eliminate  sleeping problems and fatigue. 
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta). This medication reduces pain and lets  you have an overall feeling of improvement. It is believed that it boosts  the activity of two neurotransmitters present in your brain known as norepinephrine  and serotonin. They are linked to mood, emotions and even the natural pain  suppressing system of your brain. 
  • Milnacipran HCl (Savella). Known for increasing the activity  of norepinephrine and serotonin, this medication helps significantly with  pain and physical function.

All these medicines are approved by the FDA. Consult your doctor to learn more about them and to see if they can help manage your fibromyalgia.


Living with Fibromyalgia

Living with fibromyalgia can be difficult. Some people feel that fibromyalgia is constantly going through stages (sometimes the symptoms are there, and sometimes they are not) while some feel that they have the symptoms constantly. No matter which category you belong to, you should try some of the following tips:

  • Take time to relax when  the symptoms are affecting you. 
  • If you feel too much pain  or fatigue, lie down or sit.
  • Don’t feel guilty about what  you cannot do. 
  • Never let anyone, even  family members think that you are lazy or just not bothered.
  • Educate yourself and your  family or friends about your condition and what can be done if the symptoms  are out of control.
  • Have an emergency contact  number with you at all times. 
  • Develop a good bedtime  routine to ensure that you sleep as normally as possible.
  • Limit screen time in the  bedroom to ensure quality sleep. 
  • Talk to an expert if you  feel the physical, mental or emotional strain.
  • Focus on staying healthy  by eating right, exercising, thinking positive, etc. 
  • Meditate and practice yoga  to boost your mental health (if you can).
  • Seek medications when you  need them.
  • Try alternative therapies  if you are comfortable. 
  • Ask for help or hire  someone to help with managing children or daily chores if you can’t do it  alone. 
  • Be aware of the latest  research and therapies that are being innovated to help people with  fibromyalgia. 




Fibromyalgia and Back Pain

Many people who have to deal with fibromyalgia also need to deal with back pain. As many as 49 percent of people who deal with fibromyalgia also deal with lower back pain. Similarly, about two-thirds of people who have to deal with chronic low back pain have fibromyalgia. Medical professionals think these two problems can be treated individually or together as many of the symptoms or triggers can be the same.

Both health issues can make life difficult for a person. In many cases, chronic conditions like fibromyalgia and low back pain also lead to mental health issues like anxiety or depression. The treatment for both these condition starts with discovering the origins of them. Also, in many cases, distinguishing them and then treating them separately gets results.


Fibromyalgia and Pregnancy

Pregnancy characterized by body changes. It’s particularly challenging for women who have fibromyalgia. Here are a few things that can help ease the pain of fibromyalgia during pregnancy:

  • Talk to your doctor before getting pregnant and mention your desire to be a mother. The doctor would recommend safer medicines and treatments that don’t affect your unborn child. 
  • Exercise throughout the pregnancy but do only those exercises that your body allows. Never push yourself to do something your body and mind are not ready for. Tell people in your life about the fact that fibromyalgia might make life difficult for you. Educate them about the chronic condition so that they can support you.
  • Know which therapies give relief from fibromyalgia pain and which to avoid. 
  • Restrict yourself to the tasks that you can easily do. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially during the first and last three months of the pregnancy. 
  • Hire help during and after the pregnancy to ensure that you don’t overwhelm yourself. 
  • If you are planning to breastfeed the baby, make sure you skip fibromyalgia medications that can be harmful to the baby. 
  • Realize that pregnancy is challenging for many moms and not being able to do all of the same activities as other moms due to pain limitations is okay. 


Conclusion

Diagnosing and treating fibromyalgia is challenging. It’s not called an invisible illness without good reason. Most people can’t articulate the pain they feel, and it can come and go without warning, which can disrupt life, work, and plans. Knowing how to manage your illness is key, particularly if you suffer from back pain along with it.


Book Recommendations

Surviving and Thriving with an Invisible Chronic Illness: How to Stay Sane and Live One Step Ahead of Your Symptoms by Ilana Jacqueline

Blogger Ilana Jacqueline, who suffers from an invisible chronic illness, offers her perspective on living with a complicated, invisible condition in Surviving and Thriving with an Invisible Chronic Illness.

For those living with conditions like hers—postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), Lyme disease, lupus, dysautonomia, or multiple sclerosis (MP)—she offers advice on how to find balance in every area of your life from work and school to sex, dating and relationships. She also passes down her wisdom on how to handle your health care and how to deal with people who are judgmental or skeptical of your condition.

Book | Author's Website


Battle Endurance - How You Can Be Someone Who Never Quits and Gives Everything You Have To Give by Nate Battle

While publishing his book, Nate Battle was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. While the condition can be tough to live with, the principles outlined within the book serve as a reminder and guide for the reader that tough people rise in challenging times.

Nate teaches readers how to work through conflict, tackle personal obstacles, and navigate difficult times. He also shows how to infuse positive talk into your life so you can take action and stand tall when bad days happen to you.

Book | Author's Website


Pain Management Decoded: Surviving and Thriving with Chronic Pain by Dr. J.B. Kirby

Written by Dr. J.B. Kirby, a nurse practitioner with over 33 years of experience in health care, Pain Management Decoded: Surviving and Thriving with Chronic Pain is an open letter of Kirby's frustration of living with chronic pain. She offers readers low-cost or no-cost strategies for how to manage and live with chronic pain.

Book | Author's Website


Adrenaline Dominance By Michael E. Platt, M.D.

Adrenaline Dominance is an expose of how this hormone—vital to human fight-or-flight—may be the underlying culprit for a multitude of human illnesses, conditions, and ailments (like fibromyalgia).

You’ll learn how adrenaline can remain on when you don’t realize it, even when they’re not facing danger. Adrenaline Dominance demonstrates a natural method for reducing excess adrenaline so that patients can take control of their health holistically.

Book | Author's Website


Last change: June 7, 2019

Contributors and Experts

Dr. J.B. Kirby is a nurse practitioner and college professor who started off as a firefighter and emergency medical technician when she was 18 years-old. She's been in health care ever since.

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