Pain is an entity that not only affects the physical body, but prolonged treatment and unbearable symptoms can also cause mental as well as emotional disturbances. One such painful disorder is fibromyalgia which is a collection of several signs and symptoms without any specific identifiable cause.
It is a syndrome characterized by pain and tenderness in various parts of the body. Medical researchers are still trying to find a cure for this painful condition. However, there are several conventional and alternate treatments available that can reduce the pain and help the patient cope with other symptoms associated with it.
The word, fibromyalgia consists of “fibro” meaning muscles and fibrous tissues in the body, and “algia”, which means pain. Thus, fibromyalgia means pain originating in the muscles, tendons or ligaments in the body. This condition is referred to as a ‘syndrome’ as it is also associated with symptoms in other parts of the body. Fibromyalgia is a chronic painful debilitating condition that is associated with widespread pain and fatigue.
Fibromyalgia is mainly seen in young and middle age group women. However, the condition can also be seen in men and children. It has been observed that fibromyalgia often occurs with other chronic rheumatic conditions like systemic lupus erythematous, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not known. But, there are certain factors that trigger the condition. This includes physical or mental trauma, bacterial or viral infection, hormonal imbalance, disturbances in brain chemicals, chronic sleep disturbance, muscle tissue abnormalities and genetic factors.
Experts believe that in fibromyalgia, the parts of your brain and central nervous system that deal with pain signals work differently from that in other people.
Chronic sleep disturbance: Several studies have related fibromyalgia with chronic sleep disturbance. However, it is still not known which one comes first. People with FMS (fibromyalgia syndrome) have serious sleep problems like restless leg syndrome or sleep related breathing problems, which make the condition worse.
Hormonal and chemical imbalance in brain: FMS is associated with low levels of serotonin and melatonin. Both these neurochemicals help in improving your sleep and well-being. Some studies have found that FMS patients have low levels of IGF-1 growth hormone, which is important for healthy bone and muscle growth.
Psychological or social effect: Studies have found that most patients with FMS have a history of severe physical or emotional abuse. Therefore, FMS is categorized in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders.
Muscle abnormalities: Some theories suggest that various muscle abnormalities, such as muscle-cell chemical imbalance and abnormal blood flow in muscles can trigger the symptoms of pain and fatigue in muscle and fibrous tissue.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The primary symptom of FMS is widespread chronic pain that persists for at least three months. The severity of the symptoms varies from individual to individual. The chief symptoms of Fibromyalgia are:
Pain: The patient with FMS experience pain all over his body. The pain can affect several areas of the body, mainly the neck and back. The severity of pain can vary from day to day. It gets worse by cold climate, physical stress or mental stress and disturbed sleep. There is tenderness and stiffness in some parts of the body, especially after getting up in the morning.
Fatigue: Patient with fibromyalgia experiences tiredness, which is more troubling and frustrating for him. Tiredness is mainly observed in the morning, but improves as the day goes on.
The above symptoms can affect other aspects, such as sleep, concentration and mood. Therefore, people with FMS may have disturbed sleep pattern, poor concentration or inability to focus on work and depression and anxiety due to constant pain and fatigue.
Some patients with chronic fibromyalgia experience a variety of unexplained symptoms such as irritable bowel sensations, weight fluctuations, headache, cognitive dysfunction, and pelvic and urinary problems. These symptoms impair the activities of daily life and affect the quality of life.
Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia
Various tests are done to differentiate the symptoms of fibromyalgia from other medical conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism etc. Diabetes and fibromyalgia have several common symptoms and can often be misdiagnosed. Therefore, lab testing is must to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Fibromyalgia
Although there is no permanent cure for fibromyalgia, there are several fibromyalgia treatment options that help the patient lead a normal life. The fibromyalgia treatment centre consists of a team of doctors, which includes a physician, dietician, physical therapist and other specialists.
Medications: Medications are prescribed to ease the pain and fatigue and improve sleep. Painkillers like paracetamol and other weak opioids are given to treat mild to moderate pain and to combat flare-ups. For severe fibromyalgia pain management, stronger painkillers like codeine and nefopam are prescribed.
Other medications that affect the activity of the brain in regard to pain sensation are dopamine agonists, 5 HT3 receptor agonists and anti-depressants. Muscle relaxants help in dealing with stiffness and muscle spasms in fibromyalgia. Anti-seizure medications and other seizure medicines are prescribed to improve the quality of sleep in fibromyalgia patients.
Exercise: Physical therapy is an important aspect of fibromyalgia treatment. Aerobic exercise improves blood flow and oxygen to the muscles and nearby tissues and help in nourishing them. Exercise also helps with other symptoms like anxiety and depression associated with this painful condition.
Diet: Research has found that certain foods affect the stimulation of neurotransmitters in the body, which in turn stimulate the oversensitive nerve cells responsible for pain processing in the brain. Therefore, it is essential for fibromyalgia patients to take care of foods they eat. The best fibromyalgia diet includes fresh fruits and vegetables that will supply anti-oxidants and other nutrients to the body. The use of preservatives and additives should be minimum.
Disability for fibromyalgia: One of the main concerns of FMS is disability. It can be short-term or long term depending upon the severity of the symptoms. In many countries, long term disability insurance is offered through private employers as well as the government as Social Security Disability Insurance.