Until it strikes you, you may not have heard of fibromyalgia (FM) before. Although this is one of the most common conditions involving muscle and bone, it is still not well understood. Fibromyalgia expresses itself through muscle and joint pain, fatigue, and twitching, but the cause remains a mystery. Among the ten million Americans that struggle with this chronic pain condition, there are a wide variety of accompanying symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome, mood disorders, or gastrointestinal reflux disease, but the one constant is chronic pain.
Despite the ongoing mystery of what causes this disease, medical professionals have developed a suite of treatments that can mitigate or even eliminate many of the symptoms including the chronic pain. The most common approach to remediating fibromyalgia is to use a combination of pharmacological therapies, exercise and cognitive behavioral therapies. While this may not eliminate the underlying physiological cause of the disease, many patients respond sufficiently to this treatment program that their quality of life is significantly enhanced.
Current Understanding of Fibromyalgia
Although the medical understanding of fibromyalgia remains incomplete, recent research has shed new light on this mysterious condition. Research by Daniel Clauw suggests that FM may be related to neurochemical imbalances in the central nervous system that produce an over-sensitivity to pain stimuli. This theory has been supported by evidence of elevated levels of several neurotransmitters in the nervous system of affected patients. That would also explain why many fibromyalgia sufferers respond to pharmacological agents that inhibit neurotransmitter release or production.
While people with fibromyalgia do endure bouts of intense pain, the disease does not cause tissue damage and does not appear to worsen over time. Episodes of chronic pain may result from high stress, so maintaining a stress-free lifestyle is critical to disease management.
Fibromyalgia is the most common widespread pain condition, but many clinicians fail to recognize the symptoms and correctly diagnose it. If you exhibit the following symptoms, you may be suffering from fibromyalgia:
- Chronic, widespread pain for a minimum of three months
- Pain is present in all four quadrants of the body, i.e. left and right sides, above and below the waist
- Tenderness or pain is present when modest pressure is applied
- Sleep disturbances
- Cognitive dysfunction
The first signs of the illness may appear after an injury, illness or high-stress event.
Because fibromyalgia may express itself in so many ways, your physician may recommend a multilayered treatment program to determine which therapies are most effective in resolving your personal set of symptoms. Your physician may include one or more of the following therapies:
- Physical therapy—a PT may work with you to develop a customized exercise regime that mitigates your pain
- Over-the-counter pain relievers—commonly available medications like ibuprofen and aspirin may be sufficient to manage pain symptoms
- Anticonvulsants—some patients respond positively to anti-seizure medications like Lyrica which can diminish nerve pain
- Acupuncture—this alternative therapy does alter neurotransmitter levels in some patients, relieving pain symptoms
- Yoga—these low-impact, relaxation techniques may help you avoid stress triggers
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.