Fibromyalgia is an established medical condition marked by excessive fatigue and chronic pain. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it affects about one out of 50 Americans. Despite the high statistics, some patients might mistakenly attribute symptoms caused by another condition to fibromyalgia.
Causes and Symptoms
Doctors haven’t identified a specific cause of fibromyalgia. However, autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and multiple sclerosis (MS) can put you at risk for developing it. Middle-aged women are most likely to have fibromyalgia, but anyone can develop the disorder.
Other possible risk factors include:
- repetitive injuries
- a serious illness
- an accident
Excessive fatigue and chronic (ongoing) muscle pain are the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia. You also may experience:
- frequent headaches
- feelings of numbness in your feet or hands
- joint pain
- memory loss
- painful menstruation
Unlike other types of chronic pain, fibromyalgia can cause tenderness. Tender points on the body may become more painful with pressure.
There are no specific tests for fibromyalgia. However, chronic pain that lasts at least three months at a time may indicate fibromyalgia, according to the NIH. That means pain that lasts for a few days or weeks may be caused by something else.
Your doctor will look for tender points on your body to make a fibromyalgia diagnosis. They also may use blood testing and other diagnostic tools to rule out other conditions.
Fibromyalgia or Something Else?
Fibromyalgia isn’t imaginary, but it may be mistaken for other underlying causes with similar symptoms, such as depression. With clinical depression, a person feels down for periods of time. They may experience excessive fatigue and chronic body aches too. Thyroid disorders and arthritis may present similar symptoms as well.
Given the similarities between fibromyalgia symptoms and other health conditions, don’t be surprised if your doctor is hesitant in diagnosing you with fibromyalgia. However, you should feel empowered to speak up if something doesn’t seem right with your body.
There’s no standard treatment for fibromyalgia. Instead, your doctor will determine the best medications to treat your worst symptoms. Depending on the severity of your pain, you’ll either take over-the-counter or prescription pain medications for relief.
Fibromyalgia also may be treated with:
- antidepressants for fatigue and pain
- anti-seizure medicines for chronic pain
- muscle relaxants
Healthy habits at home can complement medical treatment for fibromyalgia. Sleep can help fight daytime fatigue. A regular exercise program may boost your energy levels, and decrease muscle and joint discomfort. Occupational or physical therapy may help you cope with ongoing pain and discomfort. Acupuncture and massages may also relieve pain.
A Condition Without a Cure
Not everyone with chronic pain and fatigue has fibromyalgia, but it’s important to consider if you suffer from its hallmark symptoms. Also, know that your risk for fibromyalgia is higher if you have a family history of autoimmune diseases.
Just because there’s no cure doesn’t mean that fibromyalgia is an imagined condition. Medications and a healthy lifestyle are your best methods for symptom relief.