Fibromyalgia is an illness that causes chronic pain in muscles and ligaments. The vast majority of affected people are women in their mid-30s to late-50s. In addition to chronic muscular pain and stiffness, this ailment can also cause fatigue, sleep disorders, depression, and an inability to think clearly.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
While there is no known cause for fibromyalgia, recent research has revealed some new facts about the disease.
One of the new discoveries is that people with fibromyalgia process pain differently. The level of chemical in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) called substance P, which transmits pain impulses to the brain, is three times higher in people with the disease than in those who do not have the condition. This likely causes someone with fibromyalgia to experience pain more intensely.
Other researchers believe fibromyalgia is caused by a lack of deep sleep. It is during stage 4 sleep that muscles recover from the prior day’s activity, and the body refreshes itself. Sleep studies show that as people with fibromyalgia enter stage 4 sleep, they become more aroused and stay in a lighter form of sleep. Even though they may sleep for a long period of time, they get poor quality sleep.
The most prominent symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain. Unlike arthritis, the discomfort is not in the joints, but in the muscles and ligaments. The pain is commonly located in the neck, shoulders, back, and hips. There is also diffuse tenderness, as if the sensory portions of the nervous system are extra sensitive. The tenderness is worse in the mornings and has been described as flu-like, burning, throbbing, aching, or stabbing.
Another frequent complaint associated with fibromyalgia is fatigue. In fact, it occurs so commonly that some doctors think fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are the same disease. The severity of the fatigue can range from mild to incapacitating. In its worse form, fatigue can be so debilitating that some people have trouble keeping their jobs. No amount of sleep at night or rest during the day is helpful for relief.
Fibrofog is another common symptom. This refers to the inability to concentrate, memory loss, and depression that occurs with fibromyalgia.
Other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia are insomnia, headaches, nervousness, numbness, dizziness, and intestinal disturbances, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
There are both pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments for fibromyalgia. Medication treatments frequently help manage the pain and sleeplessness from which fibromyalgia patients suffer. However, the non-medication treatments are really the basis of treatment for fibromyalgia.
The non-medication treatments for fibromyalgia include education, exercise, and stress reduction. Sleep disorders may require both medication and non-medication treatments.
Education about fibromyalgia is very important. Often patients have suffered with symptoms for years, and simply knowing why they have pain can be a relief, as many patients become anxious not knowing what is causing their symptoms. You should also be educated about treatment approaches, good sleep hygiene, and the importance of treating conditions that may contribute to their symptoms. For example, when a patient with rheumatoid arthritis has fibromyalgia as well, poor control of their rheumatoid arthritis may lead to worsening of fibromyalgia pain and sleeplessness.
An exercise program is crucial in the treatment and should include stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercise. Many patients with fibromyalgia find it difficult to institute a regular exercise program because they feel they are too tired to exercise and they may perceive that their pain and fatigue worsen when they begin to exercise.
However, numerous scientific studies have shown that exercise, especially aerobic exercise, can improve pain, physical function, and a sense of well-being. Starting slow and sticking with the exercise program is very important. Low-impact aerobic activities such as swimming, water aerobics, walking, and biking are activities that patients with fibromyalgia find helpful. Many patients find it helpful to exercise in the morning. Some patients find yoga helpful for strengthening and stretching. This should also be accompanied by an aerobic exercise program.
Stress reduction is important for the self-management of symptoms. Many patients feel that their symptoms are triggered by stress. Stress reduction can be challenging. There are many stressors in life; some can be changed and others cannot. Stress reduction involves a combination of changing stressors that can be changed and learning to lessen the body’s stress reaction to the stressors that cannot be changed.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychological therapy whereby a therapist and patient work together, to establish healthy patterns of behavior by replacing negative thoughts with more productive thoughts and actions. This has been proven to work in fibromyalgia. This form of therapy can be done one on one in an office setting, or even over the Internet.
Medications often used in the treatment include medications in the antidepressantclass (medications originally developed to treat anxiety and depression) and anticonvulsants (medications originally developed to treat seizures).
Prevention of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome with a genetic predisposition. It can be triggered by certain events, but the exact events leading to the onset of is unknown. Because of this, there is no known way to prevent fibromyalgia. However, leading a healthy lifestyle, including getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising, is the best way to stay healthy.
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