What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia (fi-bro-my-al-ja) (FM or FMS) is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas. Fibromyalgia is the most common musculoskeletal condition after osteoarthritis. Still, it is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. Its characteristics include widespread muscle and joint pain and fatigue as well as other symptoms. Fibromyalgia can lead to depression and social isolation.
Fibromyalgia is a condition where pain signals are not processed normally and hence the patient is always in chronic pain and fatigue. It is sometimes considered a psychological issue rather than a disease since it is connected to depression also. Sleep disorder, stress and psychological trauma can also result in Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia can also occur due to neurobiological issues and hence the International Classification of Diseases (IDC-10) has listed Fibromyalgia as a diagnosable functional somatic disease rather than a mental disorder.
Since mental conditions such as stress, depression, anxiety and psychological trauma can also result in Fibromyalgia, for more clarity, it can be classified into 4 types:
- Extreme pain but no related stress or anxiety problems
- Fibromyalgia along with depression due to resulting pain
- Depression accompanied by fibromyalgia syndrome
- Fibromyalgia purely due to psychological problems
Each of these conditions should be treaded separately using different methods though anti-depressants are widely used for the 2nd and 3rd conditions.
Extreme and widespread pain and fatigue without any solid reason are the most common symptoms most patients complain of.
Sleep disorders, changes in bowel movement patterns, headaches, problem in concentration and memory loss are also commonly complained about.
Since the patient will not be able to point out the pain areas specifically and may be going through mental stress or depression the condition is generally overlooked as a mere psychological problem.
Though there is no specific test that can be considered the ultimate diagnosis point for Fibromyalgia, it can be diagnosed over a period of time based on tests and history of the patient.
Scientists have classified 18 points in our body where pain is usually felt more. Mechanical devices are available that exerts pressure on the said 18 points of the patient, the resulting data alone cannot be considered for concluding the diagnosis.
A physician’s subjective diagnosis based on the medical history and the amount of pressure exerted should also be considered. This along with a record on the psychological condition of the patient should be the basis for diagnosis.
What causes Fibromyalgia is still a much researched subject. One of the reasons considered is an injury or illness that affects the central nervous system or brain. For non-psychological related fibromyalgia the patient is extremely sensitive to pain because the nervous system controlling pain signals are affected due to an injury, medication or some other disease and do not function properly.
For fibromyalgia related to psychological issues some doctors feel that the pain is not real and it’s just a feeling of the patient. Since there is not accepted testing facility to measure the amount of pain a patient feels, it is not a conclusive diagnosis.
Fibromyalgia produces chronic pain across ones entire body across numerous trigger points. The pain migrates and can be felt from head to toe. Other symptoms include persistent fatigue, headaches, cognitive or memory impairment, morning stiffness and non-restorative sleep. The pain can move from day to day. Recent scientific research studies have shown that the central nervous system is involved in people with FMS.
The word fibromyalgia is derived from the Greek word as follows:
- fibro meaning fiber-like
- mya meaning muscle
- algia meaning pain
How widespread is Fibromyalgia?
The American College of Rheumatology estimate that between three (3) and six (6) million Americans suffer from Fibromyalgia.
Who is affected by Fibromyalgia?
Primarily, fibromyalgia affects women of child bearing age, but cases in children, elderly and men occur.
The doctor, therapist, and patient all play an active role in dealing with fibromyalgia.
Treatment requires a comprehensive approach.
Studies have shown that aerobic exercise like walking, swimming and biking improve muscle fitness and reduce tenderness, and chronic muscle pain. Heat, massage and gentle touch can also give short term relief. Antidepressant medications help elevate mood, improve quality of sleep, and relax muscles.
Patients with fibromyalgia also benefit from a combination of exercise, medication, relaxation, meditation and physical therapy.