Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread body pain and tenderness of the joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues. Fibromyalgia may also be associated with fatigue, headaches, difficulty sleeping, depression and anxiety.
The cause of fibromyalgia is not known, however, certain factors such as sleep disorders, physical or emotional trauma, viral infection and abnormal pain perception may trigger fibromyalgia.
Middle-aged women are at an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia. Several other conditions such as chronic neck or back pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, hypothyroidism, sleep and depressive disorders mimic the symptoms of fibromyalgia and may coexist with it.
The predominant symptom of fibromyalgia is generalized body pain. The intensity of pain may vary from mild to severe. Tender joints, localized painful areas in the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms or legs, are present. The pain may either be continuous or there may be a diurnal variation in pain, with an aggravation of the pain during the night. The pain may either be aching in nature or a shooting, burning pain that may increase with stress, anxiety, physical activity and cold or damp weather. Most people with fibromyalgia also experience fatigue, depression, and sleep disorders where they wake up with a feeling of tiredness despite long periods of sleep.
People with fibromyalgia may also have other associated symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headache, memory and concentration disorder, numbness, tingling sensation in the hands and feet, irregular heartbeat and decreased ability to exercise.
The diagnostic criterion for fibromyalgia includes:
- Widespread pain lasting for at least three months
- Pain in at least 11 of the 18 tender points including elbows, buttocks, chest, knees, shoulders, lower back, neck, rib cage and thighs.
Blood and urine tests may be recommended to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.
The treatment for fibromyalgia is aimed at resolution of the symptoms and helping the patient to cope with those symptoms. The treatment options for fibromyalgia include physical therapy, a fitness and exercise program, stress relief techniques and medications. Several medications such as antidepressants, muscle relaxants, anticonvulsants (anti-seizure), and pain killers can be prescribed to patients. These medications provide symptomatic relief from pain and also improve their quality of sleep.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an important aspect of fibromyalgia treatment and helps in modification of an individual’s response to pain. Support groups may also be helpful in managing fibromyalgia. A well-balanced diet, abstinence from caffeine, regular sleep pattern and acupuncture therapies may also relieve fibromyalgia symptoms.