|What Is Fibromyalgia?
People with fibromyalgia experience widespread muscle pain and fatigue. The pain is not constant but can come and go. It is characterized by tender points on the body which are highly sensitive to pain at the slightest pressure. These tender points are used in the diagnosis process. The syndrome affects both men and women but 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia are female. Typically it occurs in women between the ages of 50 and 70 and in women with a family member who also has the condition. The severity, type and location of pain experienced vary from person to person. Although considered an arthritis-related condition, fibromyalgia is not a true form of arthritis because it does not cause tissue inflammation nor does it damage joints or muscles. However it is considered a rheumatic condition because it can make the joints and surrounding tissues painful and sore to use. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, primarily because a specific cause has not been identified. However symptoms can be managed very successfully. According to the American College of Rheumatology, approximately 3 to 6 million Americans suffer from the syndrome. Some people, including doctors, persist in thinking that fibromyalgia is just another word for hypochondria (that it is all in the head), and this is one of the issues in why a diagnosis is often delayed.
Scientists do not yet understand the main fibromyalgia causes, if there is even a main cause. It is a syndrome which means it is a collection of medical symptoms which occur together but do not have an identifiable cause. What we do know, is that the condition appears to have its roots in both the mental and physical. An emotional or physical trauma appears to be one trigger which can cause it to develop. When it has developed, the severity of pain experienced appears to be influenced by how the patient feels, and often worsens when they are depressed, stressed or anxious. This may indicate a hormone influence. Fibromyalgia often appears in women (between 25-65 percent) who have also been diagnosed with different types of arthritis including rheumatic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and autoimmune problems. An online study carried out in 2007 of 2,500 patients with fibromyalgia revealed the following as the most common triggers for worsening pain:
The Genetics Link: Read our article: Is fibromyalgia genetic?
About 50 percent of people with fibromyalgia have difficulty carrying out routine everyday activities and up to 40 percent have had to stop work or change jobs because of symptoms. On average, people with fibromyalgia are hospitalized once every three years. The most common fibromyalgia symptoms are:
• Flu like pain, primarily the neck and shoulders.
Fibromyalgia tender points are points in the body which someone with fibromyalgia will find particularly sensitive to touch. Although most people might find these points sensitive, someone with fibromyalgia will find them painful at the slightest touch. For this reason these tender points are used in the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. The points are found in the:
• Front chest area
Pain tends to be deep, radiating out from one or many of the tender points. It can range from mild to severe.
As fibromyalgia is a syndrome there is no one test that can diagnosis it accurately, particularly as it may overlap with other conditions. For this reason, any tests carried out are more likely to focus on ruling out other potential causes of symptoms before making a fibromyalgia diagnosis. When making a diagnosis, the American College of Rheumatology, has issued the following guidelines for doctors:
1. There should be widespread musculoskeletal pain for at least 3 months on both sides of the body.
There is no 'cure' for fibromyalgia, instead a doctor or rheumatologist will help a patient manage their symptoms. Fibromyalgia treatment includes both medical and alternative remedies:
• Over the counter painkillers such as tylenol, aspirin and ibuprofen to combat pain. Read about fibromyalgia medications for more details.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition which unfortunately means it may last a life-time. However, unlike arthritis, it is not a progressive disease; it will not damage your muscles, joints or internal organs. Symptoms can come and go and improve and worsen over time.
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