Understanding Fibromyalgia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Approaches
Fibromyalgia is a complex chronic pain syndrome . If you suffer from widespread muscle pain and fatigue, you may be wondering if you have fibromyalgia. Read on to learn about the symptoms, possible causes and how to manage this condition.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia involves widespread pain felt throughout the muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissues. It may occur all over or shift locations over time. The pain is often described as a constant dull ache that ranges from mild to severe. Fibromyalgia also causes debilitating fatigue, sleep issues and mood problems. However, there is no underlying damage to joints and tissues as there is with arthritis conditions. Researchers believe it stems from abnormalities in how the brain processes pain signals. Genetics, infections or trauma may play a role in triggering fibromyalgia.
Signs and Symptoms
- Widespread muscle pain, soreness, stiffness
- Intense fatigue, lack of energy and inability to exercise
- Insomnia or unrefreshing sleep
- Memory issues like forgetfulness or confusion (“fibro fog”)
- Headaches, depression, anxiety
- Numbness/tingling in hands and feet
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Inability to focus, concentrate or handle stress
Many people with fibromyalgia have tender points throughout the body that elicit pain when pressure is applied. Pain will often worsen with cold weather, stress, or lack of sleep. Symptoms tend to fluctuate but are chronic.
Causes and Risk Factors
Researchers have not definitively identified what causes fibromyalgia but believe a combination of factors are at play:
- Genetics - Often runs in families.
- Infections - Certain viruses seem to trigger fibromyalgia.
- Trauma - Post-traumatic stress has been linked to fibromyalgia.
- Abnormal pain signalling – The central nervous system over-amplifies pain signals.
- Hormonal factors – More common in women. Fluctuations may play a role.
- Psychological stress – Stress responses may worsen symptoms.
Diagnosing Fibromyalgia – There are no definitive diagnostic tests for fibromyalgia.. Doctor will conduct a physical exam and take a medical history looking for key symptoms. They will also rule out other disorders that cause similar symptoms like arthritis, thyroid issues or chronic fatigue syndrome. Your doctor may ask to perform blood tests or imaging scans to check for other possible conditions.
The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. A multidisciplinary approach works the best in treating fibromyalgia.
- Pain relievers - Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen.
- Antidepressants - Duloxetine and milnacipran can help ease pain.
- Anti-seizure drugs - Pregabalin is often prescribed for fibromyalgia.
- Sleep aids - Improve sleep quality.
Some lifestyle approaches that one can implement to get rid of fibromyalgia are as follows:
- Low-impact exercise - Gentle stretching, water aerobics and walking help increase mobility without flaring symptoms.
- Heat/cold therapy - Applying heating pads or ice packs helps ease muscle pain and stiffness.
- Therapeutic Massage - Helps relax painful muscle spasms and improve circulation.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - Helps patients develop coping strategies for dealing with symptoms.
- Stress management and relaxation techniques - Reducing stress is key.
The below given dietary approaches must be implemented for treating fibromyalgia:
- Avoid inflammatory foods like sugar, fried foods, processed carbs and alcohol which may worsen symptoms.
- Increase anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish, nuts, olive oil, and colourful fruits/vegetables high in antioxidants.
- Eliminate potential food sensitivities like gluten and dairy which provoke symptoms in some patients.
Here are a few supplements that can help with long term fibromyalgia:
- Magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin D - Correct deficiencies common in fibromyalgia patients.
The treatment approach should be tailored to each patient’s specific symptoms. Certain medications, lifestyle changes, and natural supplements will work better for some people than others.. Be patient and don’t give up. With the right multidisciplinary treatment plan, most people with fibromyalgia can achieve symptom relief and an improved quality of life.