What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a common condition that causes pain in the muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons. The pain occurs in certain parts of the body, and these painful areas are called tender points. The drawing below shows areas where tender points are common.
Fibromyalgia affects 2% to 6% of the population, including children. This disorder might be hereditary, so you may have family members with similar symptoms.
How can my doctor tell that I have fibromyalgia?
Increased sensitivity to pain is the main symptom of fibromyalgia. Many other symptoms also occur in patients with this disorder. Symptoms may come and go.
You may have some degree of constant pain, but the severity of pain may vary in response to activity, stress, weather changes and other factors. You may have a deep ache or a burning pain. You may have muscle tightening or spasms. Many patients have migratory pain (pain that moves around the body).
Most people with fibromyalgia feel tired or out of energy. This fatigue may be mild or very severe. You may also have trouble sleeping, and this may add to the fatigue.
You may have feelings of numbness or tingling in parts of your body, or a sensation of poor blood flow in some areas. Many patients are very sensitive to odors, bright lights, loud noises and even medicines. Headaches and jaw pain are also common.
In addition. you may have dry eves or difficulty focusing on nearby objects. Problems with dizziness and balance may also occur. Some patients have chest pain, heart palpitations or shortness of breath.
Digestive symptoms are also common in fibromyalgia and include difficulty swallowing, heartburn, gas, cramping abdominal pain, and alternating diarrhea and constipation. Some patients have urinary complaints, including frequent urination, a strong urge to urinate and pain in the bladder area. Women with fibromyalgia often have pelvic symptoms, including pelvic pain, painful menstrual periods and painful sexual intercourse.
Depression or anxiety may occur as a result of the chronic pain and fatigue, or the frustration you feel with the condition. It is also possible that the same chemical imbalances in the brain that are responsible for fibromyalgia might also cause depression and anxiety.
Although fibromyalgia causes symptoms that can be very uncomfortable, your muscles and organs are not being damaged. This condition is not life-threatening, but it is chronic, or ongoing. There is no cure, but you can do many things to help you feel better.
Is there any medicine I can take to help my symptoms?
Several medicines can help relieve. e symptoms of fibromyalgia. Many of these medicines (such as amitriptyline [Elavil, Endep] or cyclobenzaprine [Flexeril]) are taken before bedtime and improve your sleep. They also help the pain and other symptoms. When you begin taking these medicines, it is common to feel very groggy the following morning. Other possible side effects include dry eyes and mouth, nightmares, constipation and increased appetite. These side effects are worse when you first begin taking the medicine and improve with time. You will probably begin to notice the benefits of these medicines in about six to eight weeks.
What else can I do to relieve my symptoms?
One of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia is low-impact aerobic exercise. Examples of this type of exercise include swimming or water exercise, stationary bicycling and exercising on ski-type machines. You may need to begin at a very low level of exercise (five minutes every other day is helpful at first). Continue to increase the length and frequency of exercise until you are exercising at least 20 to 30 minutes on at least four occasions per week. Once you reach this point, you can consider switching to high-impact exercise, like walking, jogging and tennis.
The symptoms of fibromylgia are made worse by stress and poor sleep. It is important to cut stress out of your life whenever possible and to get as much sleep as your body needs. Since alcohol and caffeine cause poor sleep quality, try to avoid these substances near bedtime.
Other simple lifestyles changes may be helpful. Many people with fibromyalgia try to do as much as possible on "good" days, which leads them to have several "bad" days. If you keep your activity level even, you may not have as many bad days.
In many cities, there are fibromyalgia patient that can provide both information and support. The Athritis Foundation has some information you may be interested in reading. In addition, a national fibromyalgia support group publishes a newsletter on this disorder. For more information, contact the Fibromyalgia Netwoork Newsletter, P.O. Box 31750, Tuczon, AZ 85751, or call 602-290-5508.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Academy of Family Physicians
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group