Fibromyalgia Basics Overview

Standard

Since the beast of fibromyalgia has reared its ugly head in my body recently, I decided to review the basic facts of fibromyalgia (fm). I always feel that knowledge is more powerful than ignorance so in my quest for the information, I found this website which has a great description of the basic information of fm. I got this from the website www.prohealth.com. You can find more information there. Here is their article:

What is Fibromyalgia?


Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic pain disorder characterized by widespread pain, fatigue and sleep disturbances. It was originally thought to be a musculoskeletal disorder since most of the pain was felt in the muscles and other soft tissues. However, recent research and the advancement of brain-imaging technology is revealing that fibromyalgia is actually a disorder of the central nervous system, which causes abnormal pain processing and results in pain amplification.

Fibromyalgia Symptoms


The three primary symptoms that are common to almost everyone with fibromyalgia are pain, fatigue and sleep disorders.

Pain: Pain is usually the most prominent symptom of fibromyalgia. FM pain is chronic and widespread, affecting all four quadrants of the body, although not necessarily at the same time. Its intensity may range from mild to profound. FM pain tends to migrate, sometimes affecting one part of the body and sometimes another. Patients also report that their bodies ache all over, much like having the flu. In addition to the aching, FM pain has been described by different people as burning, throbbing, sharp, stabbing or shooting pain. Most people with FM also complain of feeling stiff and achy when they wake up.

Fatigue: While everyone knows what it feels like to be tired, the fatigue experienced by fibromyalgia patients is so much more. It’s a pervasive, all-encompassing exhaustion that can interfere with even the most basic and simple daily activities. Another feature of FM fatigue is that it is not relieved by rest.

Sleep Disorders: Most people with fibromyalgia have problems with sleep. They report having difficulty getting to sleep, waking up frequently throughout the night, and not feeling refreshed when they get up in the morning. Studies have shown that FM patients spend little to no time in deep, stage four sleep because their sleep is repeatedly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity. Since deep sleep is the time during which the body replenishes itself, fibromyalgia patients are not able to get the restorative sleep their bodies need. In turn, this lack of deep sleep can result in making their pain and fatigue worse.

Other Symptoms: Most fibromyalgia patients also report a number of other symptoms and overlapping conditions, which may include allergies, irritable bowel, irritable bladder, headaches, migraines, dizziness, numbness and tingling, sensitivity to cold or heat, depression, restless legs syndrome, chemical or environmental sensitivities, impaired balance or coordination, dry eyes and mouth, vision problems, or problems with memory, concentration and cognitive functioning.

(For more information about specific symptoms, see “Common Symptoms“)

Who is at Risk for Developing Fibromyalgia?


Adult women appear to be at greater risk for developing fibromyalgia than men or children, however, it can affect all ages and both sexes. Historically, 75 to 90 percent of people diagnosed with FM have been women, but new information may eventually change those figures.

FM experts are finding that men often have fewer than the traditional 11 tender points required for diagnosis, yet meet all the other criteria for fibromyalgia. And what was once thought to be “growing pains” in children may turn out to be a previously unrecognized form of FM.

Although fibromyalgia will probably still occur most frequently in adult women, we may soon discover it affects significantly more men and children than once thought.

Another risk factor may be family history, as there is growing evidence of a genetic component in fibromyalgia. If someone in your family has FM, you may be at greater risk of developing it yourself.

How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?


Fibromyalgia (FM) should be diagnosed by a qualified physician who is familiar with the illness and has experience diagnosing and treating it. In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology established the research criteria for fibromyalgia, which are now the criteria most commonly used to diagnose it.

For a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, both of the following must be present:

  • A history of widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body for a minimum duration of three months, and
  • Pain in at least 11 of 18 designated tender points when four kilograms (about 10 pounds) of pressure are applied.

According to the American College of Rheumatology fibromyalgia is not a diagnosis of exclusion. However, there are several other illnesses that have similar symptoms, so it is important that the doctor test for certain comorbid conditions as well. Which particular tests may be necessary will depend upon the individual patient’s symptoms and medical history.

Fibromyalgia Causes


In the past few years scientists have made tremendous progress unraveling the mysteries of fibromyalgia. Although there is still some disagreement as to the cause of FM, there is little disagreement that its onset is usually triggered by some form of trauma. The trauma may be physical, in the form of an injury or illness, or it could be an emotional trauma that produces severe, prolonged stress.

Current research seems to indicate that some people have a genetic predisposition to fibromyalgia, although the symptoms usually do not show up until triggered by one of these traumas.

One popular theory as to the cause of fibromyalgia is that a trauma or significant stressor turns on an individual’s “fight-or-flight” response. This response, designed to help us function in an emergency situation, usually only lasts a short time, then turns itself off.

But when the stress becomes prolonged, the fight-or-flight response gets stuck in the “on” position and the person’s body remains in a state of high alert. Being in a constant state of high alert puts even more stress on the body. This results in, among other things, a loss of deep, restorative sleep, which in turn causes pain amplification throughout the body.

Regardless of what initially triggers the illness, research has shown that fibromyalgia patients have very real physical abnormalities, including:

  • Decreased blood flow to specific areas of the brain, particularly the thalamus region, which may help explain the pain sensitivity and cognitive functioning problems fibromyalgia patients experience.
  • High levels of “substance P,” a central nervous system neurotransmitter involved in pain processing.
  • Low levels of nerve growth factor.
  • Low levels of somatomedin C, a hormone that promotes bone and muscle growth.
  • Low levels of several neurochemicals: serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and cortisol.
  • Low levels of phosphocreatine and adenosine, muscle-cell chemicals.

Treatment


Since the cause of fibromyalgia remains a mystery, most treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and improving quality of life. Most patients find that a multi-disciplined approach using a combination of  prescription medications, alternative/complementary therapies, gentle exercise and lifestyle adaptations seems to work best.

Unfortunately, finding which medications, therapies, etc. work best for a particular patient is generally a matter of trial and error. What helps one patient may not help another. It’s important that the patient, doctor and other healthcare professionals work together as a team to develop an individualized treatment plan.

(For more information about different treatment options, see”Treatment Modalities.” )

Choosing a Doctor


If you have a primary care physician with whom you’ve established a good rapport, discuss your concerns regarding fibromyalgia. Chances are she has other patients with the same illness, but if not, provide her with information you’ve found helpful. She may or may not remain the gatekeeper in your care, but she should be able to help you find a physician who is familiar with fibromyalgia and able to help you.

In the past, rheumatologists were the specialists who diagnosed and treated fibromyalgia. However, since research is indicating that FM is most likely a central nervous system problem, some rheumatologists are no longer taking FM patients. Check with the rheumatologists in your area to see if they will treat fibromyalgia. Logically, if FM is a central nervous system issue, neurologists would be the specialists that should treat it. Unfortunately, most neurologists are reluctant to add fibromyalgia to their practices. A few, however, have jumped on board. Again, check with the neurologists in your area to see if they will treat FM.

If your doctor is not knowledgeable about FM and is not able to recommend someone, your best resource for finding a doctor who is knowledgeable about fibromyalgia in your area is probably a local support group. (Check ProHealth’s Support Group Listing to find a group near you. ) FM message boards are also a good place to ask if anyone knows of a good doctor in your area. (Visit ProHealth’s FM message board.)

Talking with family and friends may shed some light on your search as well. Hearing of a physician with compassion, one who spends time with patients and listens, goes far when making a decision. Overall, you want to find a physician who is committed to learning as much as she can about the condition so she can provide you with the best possible care.

Do a little research on the doctors you are considering. First, check with your insurance carrier to find out which health care providers are covered by your plan. If there aren’t any suitable doctors in your plan, inquire about out-of-network coverage and charges. Next, check out the doctor’s medical credentials and whether there have been any malpractice suits or disciplinary actions against her. Below are just a few resources to help you begin your research:

  • American Medical Association’s Doctor Finder includes physician profiling information such as medical school, training and specialty.
  • The American Board of Medical Specialties will tell you if your doctor is board certified and in what specialties. “Board certified” means the doctor has completed two additional years of training and passed a national examination. “Board eligible” means the training, but not the test, has been completed.
  • Contact your state’s Board of Medical Examiners to find out about any history of malpractice suits.
  • Find out how other patients feel about a doctor you are considering. There are several Web sites, like RateMDs.com where patients rate their doctors. This particular site covers doctors and dentists in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and India.

As with any chronic illness, navigating your way within the medical world will require you to be your own advocate. This means being proactive about your care, staying informed, and being organized about your needs during each appointment. This is not an easy road, and balancing the medical, insurance and care aspects of your health is going to require clarity and work on your part.

Related Conditions


Seldom is fibromyalgia a solitary illness. Most FM patients have one or more comorbid (related) conditions. Which came first is one of those chicken and egg questions.

Why do people with FM usually have so many other disorders? The answer to that may be found in a new paradigm proposed several years ago by Dr. Muhammad Yunus. He suggests that many of these related illnesses could be classified as Central Sensitivity Syndromes.  Basically, this means that the central nervous system becomes hypersensitive, which stresses the rest of the body and can eventually lead to any number of different disorders. (See “Are Fibromyalgia and Other Chronic Conditions Associated?” for more information on Central Sensitivity Syndrome.)

Some of the related conditions that fibromyalgia patients may have include:

  • Allergies
  • Migraine disease
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
  • Chiari malformation
  • Intermittent cervical cord compression
  • Cervical stenosis
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica
  • Sleep apnea
  • Raynaud’s syndrome
  • Sjogren’s disease
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Multiple chemical sensitivity
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Interstitial Cystitis
  • Gulf War Syndrome
Advertisements