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By John Smith

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic pain syndrome, characterized by widespread muscle pain, fatigue, and specific tender areas of soft tissue. It is often difficult to diagnose, due to the lack of a specific laboratory test, but it is estimated that there are 3-6 million fibromyalgia sufferers in the US alone.

The causes of FM are still unclear, though recent studies have theorized that it may arise following a period of trauma, illness, or following a period of environmental or emotional stress; and there is some speculation on whether there may be some genetic susceptibility. Though there is no known racial or age predisposition to FM, it does seem to originate in patients between the ages of 20 and 30, and 80-90% of cases will be female.

Though little is known about the causes of fibromyalgia, several studies have now shown that patients who display fibromyalgia have increased levels of the neurotransmitter 'substance P' in the spinal column. This chemical transmitter effectively amplifies the sensation of pain in the brain, causing the patients to feel this intense pain.

Common Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Pain - Fibromyalgia pain can vary in intensity and type; from deep muscular aches to shooting nerve pain. Pain tends to be more noticeable during activity, and can be worse in hot/cold weather, and upon waking.

Sleep Disorders - Studies have shown that not only do patients with fibromyalgia suffer from disturbed sleep due to tenderness and pain, but they also spend less time in the deeper stages of sleep. During the most restful periods of sleep, studies have shown that patients with fibromyalgia suffer from 'bursts' of brain activity that prevent them from taking advantage of this deep sleep period. This lack of sleep can exacerbate their levels of fatigue.

Fatigue - This can range from mild fatigue after gentle exertion to incapacitating tiredness.

Other symptoms can include irritable bladder syndrome, headache, anxiety, depression, 'restless leg' syndrome, and cognitive/memory problems.

Treatment and Prognosis

Treatment focuses on pain relief, relaxation, sleep promotion and patient education to enable sufferers to take control of their lives and symptoms. Many patients find relief from complementary therapies as well as coping techniques and medication, and gentle exercise can often be a good way of reducing symptoms. Fibromyalgia is not a degenerative condition, more patients than ever are finding ways of coping with their condition and getting on with life.


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