Occasional aches and pains are the normal effects of a hectic lifestyle. But when pain becomes chronic or exists with other symptoms, such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping or intestinal or memory problems, it may be caused by something else. It could be fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia affects an estimated 5.8 million Americans. The symptoms are primarily pain and stiffness but may also include other symptoms that may be difficult to define — leaving many patients frustrated by their physical limitations and their inability to make plans or feel “good.” But sufferers may find relief in knowing that their ailment has a name and they can get some relief from it.
Q. What is fibromyalgia?
A. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that is more commonly present in women than men.
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Q. What causes fibromyalgia?
A. The cause of fibromyalgia is not clear at this time. There appears to be increased sensitivity to pain, but what triggers this is still under investigation.
Q. What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
A. The most common symptom is pain, predominantly in the muscles. There may also be associated stiffness, especially in the morning, and a feeling that the joints or extremities are swollen. Other types of pain may also occur including jaw pain, headaches, bladder pain and abdominal pain. Associated symptoms may include problems with memory, numbness and tingling, depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Sometimes fibromyalgia may coexist with autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or Sjogren’s syndrome, but it is a separate disease and may exist independent of these diseases.
Q. How is fibromyalgia treated?
A. Routine aerobic exercise is a vital part of treatment.
Many of the medications used modify how pain is perceived. Some of these medications also help with other associated symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Patients do not have equal responses to medications, so therapy must be tailored to each individual patient.
Good sleep hygiene, including avoiding agents that may impair sleep, such as caffeinated beverages, going to bed at an adequate time and avoiding activities such as reading or watching television in bed, may also help with sleep.
Complementary methods have also been used in treatment of fibromyalgia such as tai chi, acupuncture and massage. Fortunately, fibromyalgia does not damage the joints or muscles. However, finding an adequate regimen that controls symptoms may take some time.