Fibromyalgia is a term that has been thrown around for years. For many years the medical profession used Fibromyalgia as a catch all. People who had generalized pain that couldn’t be diagnosed would be given the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. The medical profession didn’t really seem to understand what caused it, and what could be done to treat it. In the past decade the condition has become much more understood and there are new diagnostic criteria that the patient must meet. I will discuss those shortly. Like many other conditions the more research that is done the more everyone understands it and it can be treated.
1. So what IS Fibromyalgia? The definition for this condition has evolved over the years. For now it is defined as a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas.
2. How many people have Fibromyalgia? Most recent estimates say that there are 3 million cases per year!! According to The National Fibromyalgia Association, Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain disorders. It is estimated that 10 million people in the U.S. are affected, and an estimated 3-6% of the world population. This condition is normally seen in women, approximately 75-90% affected are women. But it also occurs in men and children of all ethnic backgrounds.
3. What causes Fibromyalgia? Currently researchers are not exactly sure of the cause of FM. That being said more research is being done all the time that is leading in the direction of determining the exact cause. Most agree though that FM is caused by issues with the nervous system. They feel that those with FM will experience amplification of pain due to the abnormal way the nervous system is processing the signal. The newest research is leading in the direction that there may be a genetic predisposition in those who have FM. I expect to see a lot of new information coming on this front in the coming years!
4. What symptoms would a person with Fibromyalgia present with? The main complaints a person with Fibromyalgia usually present with the following: pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.
Pain– The pain that comes along with this condition is usually chronic and widespread. It can be felt all throughout the body and may vary in intensity. The pain can be described as stabbing, shooting, aching, throbbing or even as numbness and tingling. Usually people will complain of morning stiffness and abdominal pain until they get stretched out.
Fatigue– The fatigue associated with Fibromyalgia is much, much more than just being tired at the end of the day. This fatigue is an all-encompassing exhaustion that interferes with daily life! It is causes an inability to complete basic tasks.
Trouble Sleeping– Often times many people who have FM also have some sort of a sleep disorder that prevents them from getting a deep, restful, restorative nights sleep! This making the fatigue that much worse!
Cognitive difficulties – Many who suffer from FM will complain of “fibro fog.” Which is also known as brain fog. This is a symptom of fibromyalgia where you feel as though you can not think straight. You may have trouble understanding things, remembering things, or even losing things. All of which can be “normal” with Fibromyalgia. This is a form of cognitive dysfunction that comes and goes with FM.
5. How is Fibromyalgia diagnosed? In 1990 the American College if Rheumatology (ACR) developed classification criteria for diagnosis. The criteria included a history of widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body for a minimum of 3 months prior to diagnosis. It also required that the patient have pain in at least 11 of the 18 designated tender spots. In 2010 the ACR developed new diagnostic criteria that did not rely on evaluation of tender points. Instead focused on the person’s pain being widespread and accompanied with other symptoms like problems sleeping, and fatigue. They also take into account the cognitive issues that the patient may be feeling/dealing with.
6. How is Fibromyalgia treated? In order to effectively treat FM the symptoms need to be treated. Thus treatment is really about symptom management via medications,or other treatment modalities. Medications or other treatments like massage to reduce pain, sleep management and finding ways to lower stress are the main treatment modalities. Exercise and eating healthy, as with most conditions are encouraged to help lower the pain level. A person with FM will also need to discuss the cognitive difficulties they may be having with their provider so a proper treatment plan and recommendations can be made.
This was a quick and dirty way to explain Fibromyalgia, how many people are impacted, the suspected causes of FM, as well as the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Even with the changes in diagnostic criteria and more research being done, FM is still not fully understood. And treatments often end up being trial by error. One medication/treatment may be prescribed and if that works they will continue it. If not, they will continue down the line trying to figure out what works for each person. And the fact that many will also experience a number of other symptoms and overlapping conditions, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Lupus & Arthritis can complicate things. That being said over the last decade the understanding of the disease has increased and they are always working on new medications for treatment of FM. Based on the trends over the last few years it should be expected that there will be big advances in the understanding and treatment of FM. This post just shows more clearly that those who suffer from FM are NOT alone! It also shows that patients need to continue to advocate not only for their own care, and the care of others who can’t advocate for themselves. And more focus needs to pushed through the proper government channels to advocate for more money for research of this condition!