What is Fibromyalgia?


Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic widespread types of pain.
Patients with fibromyalgia often experience:

  • Chronic widespread body pain in the neck, shoulders, back, arms, and legs
  • Deep tenderness, soreness, and flu-like aching
  • Poor sleep, stiffness, and fatigue
  • Dull pain in muscles, tendons, and ligaments

Who is affected?

  • Itís estimated that approximately 5% to 7% of the U.S. population have fibromyalgia
  • Women are more likely to have fibromyalgia
  • It affects all ages and races
  • Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 years old
  • Fibromyalgia has a serious impact on patients' families, friends, and employers.

What are the symptoms?
Fibromyalgia is characterized by the presence of multiple tender points and a collection of symptoms.

Pain:

  • Profound, widespread, and chronic
  • Migrating to all parts of the body and varying in intensity
  • Described as deep muscular aching, throbbing, twitching, stabbing, and shooting pain
  • Neurological complaints such as numbness, tingling, and burning are often present and add to the discomfort of the patient
  • The severity of the pain and stiffness is often worse in the morning
  • Aggravating factors that affect the pain may include: cold/humid weather, not feeling refreshed or feeling more tired after sleeping, physical and mental fatigue, excessive physical activity, physical inactivity, anxiety, and stress

Fatigue:

  • The fatigue of fibromyalgia is much more than being tired. It is an overwhelming exhaustion
  • It feels like every drop of energy has been drained from the body
  • It can leave the patient with a limited ability to function both mentally and physically

 

Sleep Problems:

  • Many fibromyalgia patients have an associated sleep disorder
  • This disorder prevents them from getting deep, restful, restorative sleep
  • Medical researchers have documented specific differences in the stage 4 deep sleep of fibromyalgia patients
  • During sleep, people with fibromyalgia are constantly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity, limiting the amount of time they spend in deep sleep

Other Symptoms/Conditions:
Additional contributing symptoms/conditions may include:

  • Irritable bowel and bladder
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Restless legs syndrome (periodic limb movement disorder)
  • Impaired memory and concentration
  • Skin sensitivities and rashes; dry eyes and mouth
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems
  • Raynaud's Syndrome
  • Neurological symptoms
  • Impaired coordination

What causes fibromyalgia?
Most experts agree that fibromyalgia is a central nervous system (CNS) disorder. Studies have found that, compared with people who do not have fibromyalgia, people with fibromyalgia may have:

  • Excess pain-producing chemical (substance P) in the spinal fluid and too little pain-reducing chemical
  • Low levels of blood flow to the thalamus region of the brain, which plays an important role in pain sensation and movement
  • Reduced functioning of the HPA axis hypofunction, which regulates production of certain hormones
  • A change in the serotonin transporter
  • Abnormalities in the function of cytokines (proteins that affect how cells interact and behave)

There also appears to be a fairly strong genetic component to fibromyalgia and related conditions. Like most disorders, fibromyalgia occurs in part because of the genes that individuals are born with (that make them more susceptible to an illness), and in part because of what they are subsequently exposed to over their lifetime.

For some, the onset of fibromyalgia is slow; however, in a large percentage of patients the onset is triggered by an illness or injury that causes trauma to the body. These events may act to incite an undetected physiological problem already present.

Exciting new research has also begun in the areas of brain imaging and neurosurgery. Ongoing research will test the theory that fibromyalgia is caused by a defect in the central nervous system that changes the way a person normally would respond to pain.

How is fibromyalgia treated?
One of the most important factors in improving the symptoms of fibromyalgia may be for the patient to recognize the need for lifestyle changes. Change is often difficult because it implies adjustment, discomfort, and effort. However, in the case of fibromyalgia, certain changes may bring about a noticeable improvement in function and quality of life.

A physician who is knowledgeable about the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, and who can listen to and work with the patient is an important component in the treatment of fibromyalgia. It may be a family practitioner, an internist, or a specialist (rheumatologist or neurologist, for example). Traditional types of medical help may be only part of a potential treatment program. Alternative treatments, nutrition, relaxation techniques, and exercise can play an important role in fibromyalgia treatment as well. Each patient should, with the input of a health care professional, establish a treatment plan best suited to them.