Published by Steve Hedberg on August 11, 2009 Under arthritis
Fibromyalgia can be very painful and is an increasingly common type of rheumatic disease. In the United States, it is estimated that Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS,) affects over five million people and accounts for about 15% of all visits to rheumatologists. People of any age can be affected by FMS, but it is more common among the elderly, with women being the most at risk.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia Syndrome
One of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia is increased pain in specific parts of the body, typically referred to as tender points. In anyone, pressing too hard on a tender point, such as the area where the shoulders and neck meet, can cause discomfort. However in someone with FMS, even just a slight pressure on a tender point, can be excruciating.
In addition to chronic pain, more than half of those with FMS also report having severe fatigue. This fatigue is often so serious that it affects their daily life. In many cases, this chronic fatigue is a result of the pain and stress caused by fibromyalgia, however fibromyalgia also interrupts sleep patterns, so many suffers report that upon waking, it feels like they did not get any sleep.
Causes of Fibromyalgia Syndrome
Doctors are not certain what causes fibromyalgia, but have noticed some consistent discrepancies among patients. For example, serotonin levels are typically lower than normal and there are increases in a substance called peptide in cerebrospinal fluid. However, the exact causes are often debated, with some researchers concluding fibromyalgia is caused by a virus.
Effects on Daily Life
While fibromyalgia syndrome can be very painful and have a very big effect on a persons life, there is typically no permanent loss of functionality or crippling. However, the pain of fibromyalgia can last for months and for some never goes away. Most of those with FMS are able to work, although about 1 out of six fibromyalgia sufferers is on disability.
Diagnosing and Treating FMS
FMS shares a number of symptoms with other rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, so often diagnosing FMS can be difficult.
The treatment of fibromyalgia also presents a number of problems, because finding a way to relieve the pain is not an easy task. This often results in frustration, both on the part of the patient, their family, and the doctor, as none of the standard tests can show that fibromyalgia is present. On the patients part, frustration is often the result of chronic pain and chronic fatigue, which has a negative effect on their mental state.
Most medicines used to treat arthritis, such as analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications do not work. As a result, it is not uncommon for doctors to be resistant to diagnose the condition as fibromyalgia, as there is no measurable test.
One of the most important steps in treating fibromyalgia is regular exercise. Most people must work up to a full aerobic workout, as it takes some time to build up muscles and overcome fatigue. Even just a short bit of exercise can help and in cases where the patient is able to preform regular exercise, results are sometimes seen in as little as two months. However, high impact sports, like jogging or basketball, are not recommended.
In addition to regular exercise, the other main focus is on pain relief and ensuring the individual can get a good nights rest. Many take anti-depressants, such as Xanax, before going to bed, not because they are depressed, but due to the effects they have on a persons sleeping habits. Sleeping pills and other medications, such as ibuprofen, are usually ineffective. Some patients also report that heat therapy and massage can help reduce pain.
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