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Break It Down: Fibromyalgia (Video Transcript)

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder in which sufferers experience unexplained and widespread pain in their muscles and joints. The symptoms of fibromyalgia can be triggered by either emotional or physical trauma, and in some cases, by certain infections. 

Causes:

We really don’t yet know what causes fibromyalgia.  A number of studies have shown that people with fibromyalgia may have an imbalance of certain key chemicals in the central nervous system. This link has allowed researchers to create treatments that target those chemicals—serotonin in particular.  It’s also theorized that genetics and family history may play a roll. 

Recognizing the Signs:

The key symptom of fibromyalgia is unexplained pain that is widespread throughout the body, affecting muscles, joints, and tendons. 

The pain is often described as deep muscle aching. Strenuous activity can make it worse, and the pain usually manifests in the parts of the body that we use the most, like the hands and feet. The intensity of the pain can wax and wane. But it never really goes away completely.

Another key symptom is the presence of “tender points.” These are spots on the body that become very painful with even the slightest amount of pressure. 

Sometimes irritating these tender points can trigger pain in a completely different area of the body.

People suffering from fibromyalgia often feel exhausted or experience difficulty with memory and concentration. The disease can interrupt sleep patterns. There can also be psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety.

Diagnosing:

Diagnosing fibromyalgia is difficult. Many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia are similar or even identical to symptoms caused by other conditions.

So, the first course of action is ruling out other conditions, which can involve a lot of tests and take a lot of time. Once other conditions, such as certain cancers and Lyme disease, are considered, a doctor might decide that he or she is facing a patient with fibromyalgia.

Treatment:

There is no cure for fibromyalgia.  The focus of any treatment plan is to reduce pain, restore range of muscle motion, and help patients avoid situations that make their symptoms worse.

For minor forms of fibromyalgia, simple lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, stress reduction and establishing better sleep patterns can accomplish a lot.

Medications are somewhat helpful, but because there is not a complete understanding of what is being treated, the approach varies between doctors.

The medications that are currently getting the most attention are those that also prescribed for certain psychological disorders.

Antidepressants, as well as the two classes of serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, can be effective at regulating brain chemistry and may reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a difficult condition to diagnose and treat. But once it’s diagnosed, there’s hope for improvement, because certain medications and treatments can improve quality of life.