Fibromyalgia is a painful condition which may affect as many as five million Americans. While most people who are affected are middle-aged women, fibromyalgia can affect men and children too.
You may have many questions about what to expect from this disorder. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, gathering information is crucial to preparing yourself for the next chapter and new challenges.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is considered a rheumatic condition, which means that it affects muscles and tissues and causes chronic pain. This disorder is characterized by pain, tenderness and achiness, and other symptoms throughout the body. Fibromyalgia can cause significant fatigue which may impact daily life and normal activities. Most people who have fibromyalgia (80 – 90% percent) are women, although it is uncertain.
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, although there is a lot of speculation about the cause. Some scientists believe that the cause is genetic; others speculate that it stems from the way the brain and spinal cord process stimuli. There are likely a number of factors involved, and may be linked to illness, trauma, and family history.
Common Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is generally characterized by extreme fatigue and aches and/or pain throughout the body.
Other symptoms can include:
- Sensitivity to light, sound, and temperature
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble with memory and cognitive functions (sometimes called “fibro fog”)
- Stiffness in the morning
- Painful menstrual periods
- Restless leg syndrome
How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
Fibromyalgia cannot be determined by a lab test, so a person may wind up going to several different doctors before a diagnosis. This is largely because pain and fatigue, the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, are also symptoms of many other conditions. As a result, your doctor will have to rule out these other causes before making a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
A doctor who is experienced with fibromyalgia can identify this condition based on criteria from the American College of Rheumatology. These criteria include a history of pain and other symptoms lasting three months or longer, the frequency of pain per week, and more.
Treating fibromyalgia can be tricky since the cause is unknown. You may find that a healthcare team will provide the best treatment solution. This team may include your primary doctor, a rheumatologist, and physical therapists among possible others. Most importantly, you will need to take an active role in finding what method works best for you. Time, patience, and trial and error may all come into play.
Does Fibromyalgia Get Better With Time?
Since fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, that means it will last for a long time. Everyone is different, however, and some people do improve over time.
You can rest assured that fibromyalgia is not fatal, and does not cause damage to your muscles, joints, or organs.
Coping with Fibromyalgia Pain
- Mindset: Your mindset is your most important ally when coping with fibromyalgia pain. You will have good days and bad days for pain. Seeking distractions such as enjoying a comedy or spending time on a favorite hobby can help keep your mind off the pain.
- Seek Help: Some people find that support groups for fibromyalgia are beneficial to dealing with negative thoughts and learning new coping strategies.
- Sleep: Having fibromyalgia may make getting a good night of sleep a challenge. Sleep can help ease both the pain and fatigue which comes from fibromyalgia, so it’s important to get as much rest as you can. Speak with your doctor about what they recommend for approaches or treatment options.
- Eat Well: No specific diet has been proven to reduce or cure fibromyalgia. However, eating a balanced diet will give you the energy you need for your day, as well as avoid other health problems.
- Exercise: Pain and fatigue may make it difficult to get motivated to exercise. It’s important to stay active, though, as research shows that exercise is a beneficial treatment option for fibromyalgia.
Alternative Treatment Options
Complimentary health approaches (also known as alternative treatments) are techniques which some people find helpful in treating fibromyalgia, but are not proven to either improve or worsen symptoms.
Alternative therapies include:
- Water therapy
- Dietary supplements
- Tai chi
- Magnet therapy
- Chiropractic care
Remember to speak to your healthcare provider before starting an alternative therapy regimen.