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What is Fibromyalgia? | Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatments
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What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that causes long-term musculoskeletal pains, consisting of tenderness in joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues in an individual. Fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues often accompany Fibromyalgia. Women are more likely to develop the disorder then men are. Fibromyalgia is a condition that is hard to diagnose as it can mimic symptoms that other illnesses have. Fibromyalgia is a condition that is being researched as in years past, healthcare providers did not know how to diagnose the syndrome due to there being no set criteria to go by.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

The symptoms of fibromyalgia are normally confused with that of other illnesses, but can be best described as a constant dull pain or ache usually stemming from the muscles. When it is most active, widespread pain radiates from both sides of the body from above and below the waist. Along with these dull aches is what is called tender points. These tender points cause additional pain when pressure is applied. These tender points are located in the following areas:

  • Back of the head
  • Top of the shoulder and between the shoulders
  • Front side of neck
  • Outer elbow
  • Upper chest
  • Lower back
  • Upper and side of hips
  • Inner knee
  • Shins
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed mood
  • Sleep problems
  • Feeling tired when they wake up

Those who suffer from fibromyalgia are likely to wake with body ache and stiffness. It is possible to suffer from pain all day long or to have pain improve throughout the day to only worsen at night.

What Causes Fibromyalgia

Though the factors that cause fibromyalgia are unknown, the condition could be caused by genetics, as fibromyalgia tends to run in families. Moreover, fibromyalgia could be triggered by certain illnesses; physical and emotional conditions can play a part as post-traumatic stress is linked with fibromyalgia. Pain can also be influenced by cold and damp weather, by anxiety and stress. In the case of stress, fibromyalgia is found to accompany other stress related disorders such as: chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and depression.

Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia

The testing process is one that can be frustrating, as many lab tests will come back with normal results; and since many of the symptoms mimic other conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis properly diagnosing fibromyalgia can prove difficult. For this reason, doctors use a method known as differential diagnosis to determine all possibilities for patient’s symptoms and then narrow it down to the most likely case. For this reason, the criterion that is used to diagnose fibromyalgia is the ACR 1990 test. To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia a patient would have to suffer constant widespread pain for three months, having tenderness in more than half the tender point locations, or 11 out of 18 known tender point locations, while having no other underlying condition that could be causing the pain. In the case of fibromyalgia, tests will be run to eliminate the possibility of other illnesses being the direct cause of pains and aches of the body. The tests that will be conducted most often are:

  • Complete blood count
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Urine tests

Treatment of Fibromyalgia

To treat fibromyalgia includes a combination of medication and self-care. The main goal of treatment is to minimize symptoms, relieve pain, and to help a patient to cope with symptoms. A doctor will prescribe physical therapy, exercise fitness programs, stress relief methods that can involve massage and other relaxation techniques. Physical treatments improve the fitness and sleep of those suffering from fibromyalgia.
The medications that would be prescribed are analgesics, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and muscle relaxants. The use of these medications has shown some signs of effectiveness.

In the case of analgesics, the pain reliever is used to treat pain and can lessen symptoms. Antidepressants have been shown to reduce some pain, fatigue, and sleeping problems. Anti-seizure medications are used for neuropathic pain and have some affect up to a reported fifty percent reduction in pain. This number is a small percent of patients. Muscle relaxants will also be prescribed to relieve the pain in skeletal muscle spasms.

How to prevent and manage Fibromyalgia

There is no known way to prevent fibromyalgia, but the best way to cope with it is to maintain a healthy life style that includes eating healthy foods, limiting caffeine intake, exercising regularly by stretching gradually increasing time spent, sufficient sleep meaning maintaining a sleep schedule and limiting daytime naps, and reducing stressors in your life.