Fibromyalgia; What Is It and How Is It Treated?

One of the most misunderstood, and frequently misdiagnosed, illnesses in the world today is fibromyalgia.  It is frequently associated with other illnesses or syndromes, and as a result, doctors often mistake it for something else; it is also not clear what causes fibromyalgia, though new treatments are being used with varying degrees of success.


Fibromyalgia is considered a rheumatic condition, a medical condition that impairs the joints and/or soft tissues and causes chronic pain. Fibromyalgia is most common in women, and typically occurs in those between the ages of 20 and 50.  The main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain. It can vary greatly from one person to the next, but typically the pain is located throughout the body, and is experienced over long periods of time.  Pain is concentrated in “tender points,” which are located in soft tissue, and frequently found in the elbows, knees, hips, shins and lower back. The pain can worsen with cold or damp weather, activity, stress or anxiety.  Other symptoms may include tension or migraine headaches, heart palpitations, numbness and tingling of the extremities, difficulties with memory and concentration, and irritable bowel syndrome.


Sufferers of fibromyalgia often experience depression, fatigue, anxiety, headaches and sleep problems, and the symptoms of fibromyalgia frequently worsen with stress and anxiety.  As a result, fibromyalgia is frequently mistaken for a psychosomatic illness, which has its root cause in emotional or psychological disorders.  However, it is gaining more ground as a legitimate medical condition, though the cause is still unknown; possible causes or triggers are thought to include infections, sleep disturbances, an abnormal response to pain or certain somatic triggers, or physical and emotional trauma.  Even physicians who believe in the existence of the disease, and don’t dismiss it as psychological, sometimes misdiagnosed it because its symptoms mimic other diseases and disorders such as hypothyroidism, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression.


Treatments for fibromyalgia vary based on what symptoms are being experienced, and the severity of those symptoms.  Initial treatments may include physical therapy, exercise and stress relief, along with medications such as anti-seizure drugs, muscle relaxants, pain relievers, sleeping aids and antidepressants.  Physicians typically advocate lifestyle changes which can help to reduce the severity and frequency of their symptoms, such as adopting a well-balanced diet, practicing improved sleep routines, undergoing acupressure and acupuncture, and avoiding caffeine.  Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help patients deal with the stress and anxiety which results from, and contributes to, fibromyalgia symptoms; this therapy may include activities such as setting limits, recognizing what exacerbates symptoms so as to avoid potential triggers, keeping a diary of pain and symptoms, and learning how to better cope with negative thoughts.


~Contributed by InspireHappy Staff Writer


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