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What is Fibromyalgia and How to Treat It?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic, long-term illness. It causes all-over muscle pain, joint pain, and fatigue. The pain may come and go. There’s no known cause, although certain factors such as stress and genetics may predispose someone toward the disease. Although there isn’t a cure, medications, lifestyle changes and other therapies offer relief.

How common is fibromyalgia?
An estimated 4 million Americans (2% of the U.S. population) have fibromyalgia.

Who might get fibromyalgia?
Anyone can get fibromyalgia, including children. Women are twice as likely as men to have fibromyalgia. Symptoms often appear during middle age. Up to 20% of patients who suffer from other chronic disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and sarcoidosis can also have fibromyalgia.

SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES

What causes fibromyalgia?
Medical experts don’t know why some people develop fibromyalgia. It sometimes runs in families. Certain conditions or events may bring on symptoms, such as:

  • Stressors such as: being born premature, traumatic life events such as abuse, and accidents.
  • Medical conditions such as viral infections or other illnesses.
  • Anxiety, depression, other mood disorders, PTSD.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Lack of exercise.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Widespread muscle pain and joint pain along with fatigue and poor sleep are the defining symptoms of fibromyalgia. The disease affects people differently. You may also experience:

  • Anxiety or depression.
  • Digestive problems, including diarrhea or constipation.
  • Face or jaw pain (temporomandibular disorders).
  • Headaches or migraines.
  • Memory problems.
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet.

What triggers a fibromyalgia attack?
Certain things can bring on fibromyalgia symptoms (a flare-up) especially those that increase the level of stress. These include:

  • Changes in daily routines.
  • Dietary changes or a poor diet.
  • Hormone fluctuations.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Stressors such as work-related, illness, emotional stress.
  • Treatment changes.
  • Change in sleep patterns (for example, shift work).
  • Weather or temperature changes.

DIAGNOSIS AND TESTS

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?
There isn’t a test that definitively diagnoses fibromyalgia. The diagnosis of fibromyalgia is clinical based on your symptoms and physical exam. Basic blood tests are recommended to exclude other causes of fatigue such as anemia or thyroid disease. The diagnosis relies on your family and medical history combined with your symptoms.

People with fibromyalgia tend to be deeply sensitive to pain that wouldn’t bother most people. Your provider may assess the number of tender points, or areas, on your body that are highly sensitive to touch. For a diagnosis, widespread pain should be present for three months along with fatigue and other symptoms such as memory and concentration difficulties, poor sleep, symptoms of depression and irritability syndrome.

MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT

How is fibromyalgia managed or treated?
There isn’t a cure for fibromyalgia. These medications and lifestyle changes can improve symptoms:

  • Antidepressants.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Improved sleep habits.
  • Prescription and over-the-counter pain medicines.
  • Stress management techniques.
  • Strength training and exercise.

What are the complications of fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia isn’t life-threatening. Still, it can be challenging to live with chronic pain and fatigue. If fibromyalgia isn’t treated your work and daily activities are more difficult to do.

PREVENTION

How can I prevent fibromyalgia?
Because experts don’t know what causes fibromyalgia, you can’t really take steps to prevent it. Still, it’s always a good idea to:

  • Minimize stress.
  • Eat a nutritious diet.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Manage arthritis, depression or other conditions.
  • Stay active and exercise regularly.

OUTLOOK / PROGNOSIS

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people with fibromyalgia?
Most people who have fibromyalgia can ease symptoms with medications and lifestyle changes. Sometimes symptoms go away after you take steps to reduce stress. Symptoms may return during stressful times. A small number of people experience pain or fatigue so severe that they’re unable to work.

LIVING WITH

When should I call my doctor?
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience severe:

  • Depression or suicidal thoughts.
  • Headaches or migraines.
  • Memory problems.
  • Pain.
  • Sleep problems or fatigue.

What questions should I ask my doctor?
If you have fibromyalgia, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • Why did I get fibromyalgia?
  • Am I at risk for other conditions?
  • What is the best treatment for me?
  • What lifestyle changes can I make to manage symptoms?
  • Are other family members at risk for fibromyalgia? How can they lower this risk?
  • Should I look out for signs of complications?

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