What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition of pain and profound fatigue. The pain tends to be felt as diffuse aching or burning, often described as head to toe. It may be worse at some times than at others. It may also change location, usually becoming more severe in parts of the body that are used most.
Patients describe the fatigue from feeling tired, to the exhaustion of a flu-like illness. It can come and go and people can suddenly feel drained of all energy. Fibromyalgia is as common as rheumatoid arthritis. People with mild to moderate cases of fibromyalgia are usually able to live a normal life, given the appropriate treatment.
If symptoms are severe, however, people may not be able to hold down a paying job or enjoy a social life. The name fibromyalgia is made up from “fibro” for fibrous tissues such as tendons and ligaments; “my” indicating muscles; and “algia” meaning pain.
Fibromyalgia is known as a syndrome because it is a collection of symptoms rather than a specific disease process that is well understood. Besides pain and fatigue fibromyalgia symptoms often include:
• Non refreshing sleep
• waking up tired and stiff
• headaches ranging from ordinary types to migraine
• irritable bowel
• frequent diarrhoea or constipation, sometimes accompanied by gas in the abdomen or nausea
• cognitive disturbances including lack of concentration and word mix up
• clumsiness and dizziness
• sensitivity to changes in the weather and to noise, bright lights, smoke and other environmental factors
Diagnosis and treatment
Fibromyalgia has been known for a while, but for most of the last century it was difficult to diagnose. The condition can't be identified in standard laboratory tests or x-rays. Many of its signs and symptoms are found in other conditions as well – especially in chronic fatigue syndrome.
Once other medical conditions have been ruled out through tests and the patient’s history, diagnosis depends on two main symptoms:
1. widespread pain for more than three months together with
2. pain in at least 11 out of 18 tender point sites when they are pressed.
“Widespread pain” means pain above and below the waist and on both sides of the body. The spots of extreme tenderness, are rarely noticed by the patient until they are pressed.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia can develop after a trauma that seems to act as a trigger, such as a fall or accident, a viral infection, childbirth, an operation or an emotional event. Sometimes the condition begins without any trigger.
The cause of fibromyalgia has not yet been found, but research has produced some insights into this condition.
Treatments for fibromyalgia aim to reduce pain and improve sleep, which means the symptoms are being treated, rather than the condition itself. Medications prescribed for fibromyalgia are tricyclic drugs also used to treat depression and pain killers as well as the expertise of a pain clinic.
In some cases these drugs will help both sleep and pain.
Support from family, friends and other people, as well as self-help groups is valuable to those who have fibromyalgia. Professional counselling may help some people to cope with the illness and to take an active part in their own treatment. Learning to manage the condition seems to be the most successful way of dealing with fibromyalgia. A combination of heat, rest, exercise, holistic treatments and meditation can enable people with fibromyalgia to maintain a balanced life.
The best way to cope with the condition is to use a number of techniques that ease the symptoms. Relaxation is one technique that works really well for almost everybody with fibromyalgia. It reduces tension in the mind and body.
These techniques can calm the symptoms, especially pain. Relaxation can be learned from books, videos or courses. A hot water bottle and hot baths will help reduce pain and morning stiffness. Exercise is the most common prescription for fibromyalgia, especially mild programmes such as gentle Pilates, stretching and cardio training.
Physiotherapy and holistic treatments such as massage or manual lymphatic drainage can reduce the impact of the symptoms.
A healthy, balanced diet is important to provide protein, vitamins and minerals. It is best to avoid or cut down on coffee, tea and alcohol.
People with fibromyalgia can have good days and bad days. On a good day it is important to pace yourself; overdoing it may make matters worse. Rest is also important. Listen to your body when it tells you to slow down.
Anika Fit is running a Fibromyalgia Retreat on 17th March 2019, get in touch for details. (07484780328/ AnikaFit@yahoo.co.uk).