Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes the joints, muscles and tendons to become extremely painful. Fibromyalgia is completely different from other rheumatic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, polymyositis (a disease of the connective muscles and connective tissue), and systemic lupus. Fibromyalgia does not lead to joint deformity, as the above mentioned conditions do.
More than 80 percent of women between the ages of 35 and 55 have fibromyalgia. This condition can occur alone or it can occur with the onset of other rheumatoid conditions. Fibromyalgia, also called fibro, is more common in women, but anyone can suffer from this disease. In the United States, approximately 2 percent to 3 percent of the population suffers from fibro.
Though, Fibromyalgia is a very common disease that affects the muscles, it is not clear what actually causes this condition. There are some factors which may be connected with the onset of fibromyalgia.
What causes Fibromyalgia?
Some factors that may be related to fibromyalgia are:
Low serotonin levels in the brain – Serotonin is a brain chemical which functions as a neurotransmitter. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for mental and behavioral functions. Another function of serotonin is to stimulate growth hormone (GH). Disturbances in serotonin, GH, and other hormones are thought to create the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Oversensitive autonomic nervous system (ANS) – Someone with an oversensitive ANS can be in a constant state of nervous system arousal. The muscles are tense and always on “ready” for the fight or flight response. The stress caused by the nervous system arousal can lead to chronic pain, exhaustion and fatigue.
Impaired REM sleep patterns – It is believed that lack of restorative sleep will make the symptoms of fibromyalgia much worse. People with fibro often can’t get into REM sleep because they quickly awaken before getting into REM sleep.
Psychological stress – Psychological stress can increase the stress hormone in the body, which can upset the brain chemicals. The causative factors for psychological stress affecting fibromyalgia are interrelated with serotonin and other chemicals.
Infection – There is a theory that an infection could trigger fibromyalgia, and once a person has fibro, he/she may have more severe symptoms when they have an infection.
Trauma – It is also thought that trauma from an injury could be a possible trigger that causes an overactive pain response.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Painful muscle spasms are often felt in the neck, shoulders, arm, upper back and buttocks. The pain experienced from fibromyalgia comes from hypersensitive sensory responses to stimuli.
Other symptoms include fatigue, forgetfulness, mood swings, irritability, headaches, poor concentration, irritable bowel syndrome, as well as anxiety and depression.
Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia
The doctor will need to ask you questions about your medical, psychological and social history. Following the history, the physician will give you a physical examination. The doctor will check your pressure points. There are pressure points which will be sensitive in the knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, back of the head and on the sides of the breastbone.
Some lab tests may be done to rule out the presence of some other disease or condition. It can be difficult to diagnose fibromyalgia because it mimics so many other disease and conditions. Diseases such as hypothyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, hypocalcemia, Epstein Barr, hepatitis and other conditions may need to be ruled out prior to a definitive diagnosis of fibromyalgia can be made. Sometimes people with fibro also have some of the above mentioned conditions.
Treatment for Fibromyalgia could include:
Stress reduction therapies
Exercise like swimming, cycling and walking
Getting good restorative sleep
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) if advised by doctor
Prescribed medications like Lyrica
Fibromyalgia can be an extremely debilitating condition due to the chronic pain, stiffness, and emotional stress associated with the condition. For many years the medical community didn’t even recognize fibromyalgia as a true medical condition. Women, who were the most frequent of sufferers, were often referred to as hypochondriacs. Now, most physicians do accept that fibro is a legitimate physical condition. There may be no way to prevent the pain and discomfort from fibro, but avoiding alcohol, and smoking before going to bed may help to relieve some of the symptoms.