Fibromyalgia: Understanding The Chronic Pain Disorder

Fibromyalgia is a complex chronic pain disorder that causes widespread muscle pain, fatigue, and tenderness throughout the body. This condition affects more women than men and can develop at any age. Here are five key things to know about fibromyalgia.

What Triggers Fibromyalgia?

The exact cause of fibromyalgia remains unknown. However, research suggests it may be triggered by physical trauma, surgery, infection, or psychological stress. In some cases, it arises on its own over time. Scientists believe sleep disturbances and arthritis pain can also initiate fibromyalgia. Once triggered, it can create a vicious cycle of worsening pain and poor sleep.

How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

There is no single diagnostic test for fibromyalgia. Doctors diagnose it based on chronic widespread pain and tenderness. To meet diagnostic criteria, you must have experienced pain for at least three months in four specific areas of the body. Doctors will also rule out other conditions with similar symptoms through medical history, physical exam, blood tests, and imaging.

What Are The Main Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

  • Widespread muscle pain and tenderness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Difficulty concentrating (“fibro fog”)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Bladder problems

The severity of symptoms varies but are typically present most days. Flare ups can occur with overactivity or stress.

Other Common Fibromyalgia Symptoms

While the symptoms above are considered the main hallmarks of fibromyalgia, some patients experience various other symptoms as part of their condition:

  • Joint stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Balance issues or dizziness
  • Itching, burning, or stinging sensations on the skin
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Jaw pain or TMJ disorders
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon (cold hands and feet)
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

The wide range of symptoms makes fibromyalgia notoriously difficult to diagnose. Patients may suffer for years before receiving a definitive diagnosis.

What Treatments Help Fibromyalgia?

While there is no cure, various treatments can help manage fibromyalgia symptoms:

  • Pain medication – Over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription medications
  • Exercise – Low-impact activities like walking, swimming, and yoga
  • Stress reduction – Counseling, meditation, massage therapy
  • Better sleep – Developing good sleep habits, taking medications
  • Nutrition – Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • TENS – studies suggest that TENS therapy can significantly decrease fibromyalgia pain

Treatment is most effective when using a combination approach tailored to your symptoms. Pacing activities, getting support, and making lifestyle changes can also help.

How To Live Better With Fibromyalgia

Learning to manage fibromyalgia requires some trial and error. Here are some tips to start improving your quality of life:

  • Set a regular sleep schedule and wind down before bedtime
  • Exercise regularly at a level you can manage
  • Eat a nutritious diet and stay hydrated
  • Reduce stress through relaxation techniques
  • Pace yourself – take breaks before getting overexerted
  • Join a support group to connect with others
  • Communicate with loved ones about your limitations
  • Maintain a positive attitude and be patient with yourself

While fibromyalgia is challenging, taking control of your treatment and lifestyle can make a big difference. Over time, you can find an approach that provides relief and enables you to live life to the fullest.

Photo “Fibromyalgia” by Anthony Cunningham for Zoom Health

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