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Fibromyalgia: Pain, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

  • Synopsis: Last Revised/Updated: 2018-06-19 - Information on Fibromyalgia, or Myalgic Encephalopathy, a chronic condition with symptoms of hurting and pain all over the body plus feeling constantly exhausted.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition and people with it often describe symptoms of hurting all over their body and feeling consistently exhausted. Doctors who examine people with Fibromyalgia many times cannot find anything that is specifically wrong, even after a number of tests.

Fibromyalgia (FM or FMS) is characterized by chronic widespread pain and a heightened and painful response to pressure. Fibromyalgia symptoms are not restricted to pain, leading to the use of the alternative term fibromyalgia syndrome for the condition. Other symptoms include debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance, and joint stiffness. Scientists estimate that fibromyalgia affects 5 million Americans age 18 or older. For unknown reasons, between 80 and 90 percent of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women; however, men and children also can be affected. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals. Many people who have fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression.

People with Fibromyalgia experience pain in their tendons and ligaments, along with tender points throughout their body along with fatigue. Even slight pressure on tender points can cause pain. More women than men have Fibromyalgia, which has been known as, 'chronic muscle pain,' psychogenic rheumatism,' 'tension myalgias,' and, 'fibrositis,' in the past. Fibromyalgia has symptoms that vary in intensity and will most likely never disappear entirely, although Fibromyalgia itself isn't life-threatening or progressive. There are forms of treatment and self-care methods that can be taken to improve the symptoms of Fibromyalgia, as well as your overall health.

What is Myalgic Encephalopathy?

In the United States, advocates are working to have the name of CFS officially changed to ME/CFS due to the widespread belief that the name CFS trivializes the condition and leads to mis-perceptions of it. Several countries currently call the condition myalgic encephalomyelitis, ME/CFS or CFS/ME. Some experts use the terms interchangeably, while others consider one a subgroup of the other. ME or Myalgic Encephalopathy is a condition which causes the sufferer muscle and joint pain, chronic physical and/or mental exhaustion, cognitive dysfunction, digestive problems, depression, as well as the possibility of breathing and heart problems. Myalgic Encephalopathy may cause a person's social life to be affected, and in many cases, the ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy) sufferer may find that they cannot maintain a full social life at all. Some ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy) sufferers may become bedridden, dependent on others, and often completely housebound, often for a long period of time.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Diagram displays the location of the 9 paired tender points that comprise the 1990 American College of Rheumatology criteria for fibromyalgia diagnosis.About This Image: Diagram displays the location of the 9 paired tender points that comprise the 1990 American College of Rheumatology criteria for fibromyalgia diagnosis.Stress, the weather, physical activity levels, and even the time of day can affect the symptoms that people experience related to Fibromyalgia. There are a number of different symptoms that people with Fibromyalgia experience; these include:

Some additional symptoms and signs of Fibromyalgia include:

Causes of Fibromyalgia

The exact causes of Fibromyalgia are unknown to medical science at this time. Thoughts in the medical community related to Fibromyalgia involves a theory known as, 'Central Sensitization,' stating that persons with Fibromyalgia have increased sensitivity and a lower threshold for pain due to a change in pathways in the brain and associated signals. There are chemicals in the brain which signal pain called, 'neurotransmitters,' that increase, as well as pain receptors, or, 'neurons,' that receive signals from them. These neurons increase in sensitivity and overreact to pain signals - resulting in places on the body that usually would not hurt that now do when pressure is applied. The process that begins this Central Sensitization remains unknown.

There is the potential for a number of factors which may contribute to the development of Fibromyalgia, and there are different theories as to its cause; they include:

Risk Factors for Fibromyalgia

There are some different risk factors for Fibromyalgia; they include:

When to Seek Medical Attention:

Should you experience widespread pain or general aching over a period of months, accompanied by fatigue; it would be a good idea to contact your doctor. There are many symptoms of Fibromyalgia that are similar to other diseases. There is a possibility that it could be something else, such as Hypothyroidism, Rheumatica, Polymyalgia, Lupus, Neuropathy, Multiple Sclerosis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis. A proper diagnosis is essential; your Doctor can help you to find out what is going on.

Testing and Diagnosis

The process of reaching a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia can involve several tests. These tests include blood tests, X-rays and others, which may very well come back with normal results. There is no one single test for Fibromyalgia at this time. Blood testing and X-rays are used because they can tell a Doctor whether or not other conditions are present, and rule them out. They cannot; however, confirm Fibromyalgia.

In an effort to assist with both the study and assessment of Fibromyalgia, The American College of Rheumatology created a general classification guideline for Fibromyalgia. The guidelines state that in order to be diagnosed with it a person must experience widespread pain over a period of at least three months, with a minimum of eleven places on their body which are abnormally tender under mild yet firm pressure. A Doctor will take a person's medical history for background information before examining them. They will then check for these pressure points by pressing firmly on various, specific points around the person's joints, upper body, and head in order to confirm areas that are causing pain.

There is some disagreement among Doctors in the medical community concerning these guidelines; some of them feel that they are too stringent - that a person can have Fibromyalgia despite the fact that they do not meet the specified number of pressure points dictated in the guidelines. Other Doctors are debating both the validity and reliability of using pressure points as a means of diagnosis.

Complications Related to Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia usually does not lead to other diseases or conditions, and it is not progressive. It can cause depression, pain and lack of sleep and these problems may then disrupt a person's ability to interact with family or friends, or to function at work or home. Fibromyalgia is still an often misunderstood condition, and dealing with it can be very frustrating for people with it.

Fibromyalgia Treatments and Medications

Treating Fibromyalgia can involve several methods of both self-care and medication; an emphasis is placed on lowering the symptoms while increasing a person's overall health. There are some different medications that are used in the treatment of Fibromyalgia; they include:

Lifestyle, Home Remedies and Fibromyalgia

Taking care of yourself is very important when you have Fibromyalgia. There are some different things you can do to help take care of yourself and promote your own well-being. These things include:

Support and Coping with Fibromyalgia

Dealing with the fatigue, pain and the frustration of a misunderstood diagnosis can be difficult, to say the very least. Learn everything you can about Fibromyalgia, and help to educate the people in your life who care for you such as family members, friends and co-workers.

The Arthritis Foundation and The American Chronic Pain Association provide both support groups and educational classes on Fibromyalgia; you are not alone. These organizations can give advice and help that is not available elsewhere, and help you to contact others who have had experiences similar to yours who understand what you are experiencing.

Alternative Medicine and Fibromyalgia

Alternative therapies such as Yoga and Meditation have been practiced for thousands of years, and have become more popular recently among people who have chronic illnesses like Fibromyalgia. Some alternative treatments seem to safely reduce pain and relieve stress and are gaining acceptance in the medical field. Some alternative treatments remain unapproved because they have not been adequately studied. The ones that are promoted for pain management include:

How the U.S. SSA Views Fibromyalgia

Since July of 2012, when SSR 12-2P was issued, the United States SSA has had in place a specific guideline for awarding SSDI or SSI benefits to a patient with fibromyalgia. When making a determination about whether to award SSDI or SSI disability benefits to a fibromyalgia patient, the SSA will look not only at medical evidence to back up the diagnosis, but also the treatment protocols that the patient has tried prior to the application.

If a patient has only tried a single medication, with no medical evidence of additional pain and fatigue management methods that might allow he or she to perform job duties, the SSA might deny the application or delay consideration of it until the applicant can undergo additional treatments that might prove effective. The more varied a care approach is, the more likely the SSA is to award benefits if the patient, after multiple courses of treatment, is still so debilitated by fibromyalgia symptoms that he or she cannot work.

Quick Facts: Fibromyalgia Classification

Differences in psychological and autonomic nervous system profiles among affected individuals may indicate the existence of fibromyalgia subtypes. A 2007 review divides individuals with fibromyalgia into four groups as well as mixed types:

Statistics: Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is estimated to affect 2 to 8% of the population, with a female to male incidence ratio that is somewhere between 7:1 and 9:1. It is most commonly diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 20 and 50, though onset can occur in childhood. Fibromyalgia may not be diagnosed in up to 75 percent of affected people.

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