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Fibromyalgia – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Fibromyalgia is a disease that causes intense pain all over the body. This disorder causes widespread pain that affects the muscles, joints, and bones of the body.

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Alongside the pain that the patient experiences, the patient will also experience intense fatigue, excessive sleep, as well as memory problems.

According to research, it is believed that fibromyalgia increases the pain the patient feels by tampering with the pain receptors in your brain and, as such, affecting the way your neurons processes pain.

Majorly, symptoms of this disorder often begin after surgery, a physical trauma, infection, or psychological stress, which may have been caused by grief, intense pain, and so on. However, in some cases, the symptoms can gradually accumulate and increase over time without any event causing it.

According to cases recorded and researchers, women are more prone to developing this disease than men. Many people who have fibromyalgia often complain of tension headaches, temporomandibular joint disorders, irritation in their bowels, causing them to have intense bowel movements, depression, and sometimes anxiety.

According to the Centre for Disease Control(CDC), it has been seen that fibromyalgia affects about 4 million adults in the United States every year, and this is about 2% of the entire adult population.

This condition can sometimes be challenging to diagnose for some health practitioners. In the past, some doctors doubted the existence of fibromyalgia. However, now, the disease is better understood and can be well managed.

Fibromyalgia is seen to be the second most common disorder that affects the musculoskeletal system, with the first being arthritis.

Causes of Fibromyalgia

The causes of fibromyalgia remain unknown to doctors. However, some experts believe it is as a result of a combination of certain factors such as

1. Genetics

Fibromyalgia is seen to often run in families. This means that if your family member or relative has the disease, there is a tendency that you were born with it as well.

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2. Exposure to certain infections

Exposure to some viruses can cause one to become predisposed to having fibromyalgia. Some illnesses, too, have been seen to have fibromyalgia as its symptoms, while others have been seen to be the trigger that causes the development of fibromyalgia.

3. Physical and emotional trauma

Fibromyalgia can sometimes develop as a result of particular physical trauma, such as accidents and injuries. Emotional trauma and psychological stress have also been indicated as a trigger for fibromyalgia.

Researchers have been able to link Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, popularly called PTSD as one of the triggers of fibromyalgia.

4. Severe stress

Stress, like trauma, can leave long-lasting effects on the brain and the body in general. Stress is mostly associated with hormonal disorders and imbalances, which can be seen in cases that eventually result in fibromyalgia.

Health care practitioners, however, can’t adequately indicate what causes the widespread pain around the body that is associated with fibromyalgia.

Some researchers say that it could be as a result of the brain reducing its pain thresholds, which will, in turn, lead to the oversensitivity of pain by the body.

While other researchers say that the pain is caused as a result of the nerves becoming extremely sensitive to pain, and as a result, the patient feels pain at every nerve endings of the body.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

As seen earlier, fibromyalgia is characterized by severe pains around the body. These pains are felt within places that are known as “regions of pain.” Sometimes, some regions may tend to overlap with sites that are identified as trigger points or tender spots.

In the brain, there is a center for pain. This center is what receives pain signals and correctly interprets it. However, in fibromyalgia, this center for pain begins to experience certain problems, which could be as a result of chemical imbalances or an anomaly in the dorsal root ganglion that is present in the brain.

Once there is a problem, it will adversely affect the center for pain in the brain, causing the increase of pain signals even at the slightest pain impulse sent to the brain.

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Sometimes, the pain may be sharp, while at other periods, the pain may consistently be a dull ache. Doctors often use a particular diagnostic tool called “multisite pain” to diagnose if the patient has fibromyalgia.

In the multisite pain diagnostic tool, there are five regions of pain which are outlined according to the 2016 revisions to the fibromyalgia diagnostic criteria. If the patient feels pain in four out of the five areas, the patient is considered to have fibromyalgia.

This diagnostic tool is better in contrast to the former diagnostic tool, which is the 1990 fibromyalgia diagnostic criteria for widespread chronic pain.

This is because the multisite pain diagnostic tool focuses more on the areas that the musculoskeletal pain is felt and how severe and persistent the pain is rather than how long the pain has been, which is the main focus of the 1990 fibromyalgia diagnostic criteria.

Asides pain, there are other symptoms of fibromyalgia which include:

  1. Severe fatigue
  2. Difficulties in sleeping
  3. Sleeping for long periods and waking up without feeling rested. This is known as non-restorative sleep.
  4. Chronic headaches
  5. Depression
  6. Severe anxiety
  7. Difficulties in paying attention
  8. Troubles focusing on a specific task
  9. Pains around the lower belly. These pains are, however, not the sharp kind; instead, it is the dull aches.
  10. Bladder problems such as intestinal cystitis
  11. Dry eyes
  12. Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) which is characterized by pain in the face and jaw
  13. Migraine
  14. Tingling in both hands and feet
  15. Fibromyalgia fog

Another symptom a patient may face is known as fibromyalgia fog. It is also known as brain fog. This occurs when a patient gets a kind of fuzzy or dizzy feeling.

The signs of this brain fog include a combination of the following problems, which are difficulties staying alert, difficulty in concentrating, as well as memory lapses.

Once the patient gets these three signs simultaneously, the patient is said to have a fibromyalgia fog, which is a clear indication of fibromyalgia.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia in women

According to research, women are more prone to developing fibromyalgia than men, and as a result, the symptoms experienced by women is equally much more severe than men. Women are seen to experience a broader range of widespread pain than men.

Asides these, women experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), severe cramps during their menstrual period, as well as severe depression when they have fibromyalgia.

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In menopause, especially during the transition to menopause, the intensity of the pain increases. During this time, it may be difficult to distinguish between fibromyalgia and the symptoms of menopause, and this is because most of their symptoms are identical.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia in Men

Men, likewise get fibromyalgia as well. However, due to the fact that most times fibromyalgia is usually diagnosed as a woman’s disease, hence, men are rarely diagnosed.

Men who suffer from fibromyalgia experience severe pains as well as emotional disorders which in turn affects the quality of their lives, relationships as well as their careers.

Another reason why men are rarely diagnosed is that men seldom go to the hospital to complain of pains. They fear that their complaints may not be taken seriously, coupled with the fact that they may be laughed at by doctors.

Most men try to avoid the social stigma of being criticized for complaining of “just a little pain.” Most times, society believes that when men experience pain, they should suck it up.

Fibromyalgia Trigger Points

Fibromyalgia Trigger Points at points in the body that indicate severe pain upon palpation or touch. The typical trigger points include the back of the head, the top of each shoulder, the upper chest, the hips, the knees as well as outer part of the elbows.

Risk factors

The risk factors that are associated with fibromyalgia include:

1. Age

Fibromyalgia is seen to affect people of all ages, including children. However, older people are more at risk of developing the disease than the young ones, and more middle-aged people are usually diagnosed than any other age group.

2. Sex

Women are more predisposed to developing this disorder than men. In fact, research states that women are twice at risk of developing this disease than men

3. Family History

If your close family members develop the disease, there is an increased tendency that you will likewise develop the disease.

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4. An underlying disease

When you have some underlying conditions such as lupus or Rheumatoid arthritis, then you have an increased chance of developing fibromyalgia.

5. Obesity

Obesity causes a lot of problems, including fibromyalgia. Hence, if you are obese, you have an increased tendency to get fibromyalgia.

6. Stressful or traumatic events

Some traumatic events, such as car accidents, are like to trigger severe psychological stress, which can cause fibromyalgia.

7. Infections

Some viral infections can result in fibromyalgia.

8. Repetitive injuries

When you have injuries that keep reoccurring at a particular trigger point, for example, at the knee or on a specific joint, it can likely lead to fibromyalgia.

Complications

Adults who have fibromyalgia tend to have the following complications:

1. Frequent visits to the hospital

If you have fibromyalgia, there is every possibility that you will keep visiting the hospitals or keep getting hospitalized on a routine basis than someone who doesn’t have the disease.

2. Lower quality of life

As with every other disease, fibromyalgia tends to decrease a person’s quality of life, especially if that person is a woman.

3. Increased levels of depression

People living with fibromyalgia tend to experience an elevated rate of depression than people who don’t. Research shows that adults with fibromyalgia are three times likely to experience extreme levels of depression than adults who don’t.

4. Increased suicide and injury rates

People who have fibromyalgia often are quick to give up on life because they are often tired of their pain. Hence, they mostly try to kill themselves or harm themselves in any way possible.

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Some may succeed, thereby increasing the rates of suicide while others who don’t, end up severely hurting themselves.

Treatment

Sadly, there is no permanent cure for fibromyalgia. However, there are several treatments and ways to improve one’s quality of life. Treatments such as the use of medications, lifestyle changes, as well as self-care strategies are employed to help the person cope better with this condition.

1. The use of Medications

a. Pain killers

Pain killers are often used to help patients reduce and cope with their pain. However, it must be noted that pain killers to be used must be on the physician’s prescriptions. Pain killers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen help to reduce the pain the patient feels.

If the pain becomes severe, however, the doctor can decide to either increase your dosage or change your medication to more potent drugs.

b. Antidepressants

Patients who suffer from fibromyalgia and are seen to either be gradually slipping into depression or are depressed are placed on antidepressants. These drugs help to improve sleep and induce some endorphins which work on rebalancing the levels of neurotransmitters in the body.

c. Antiseizure drugs

Antiseizure drugs such as Neurontin and Lyrica induce the nerve cells to block out the pain receptors from transmitting pain signals in the body.

2. Lifestyle changes

Patients whose living with fibromyalgia are advised to do the following to change their lifestyles

a. Become physically active

Experts have recommended that adults who have fibromyalgia should become physically active for at least 150 minutes per week. This includes carrying out exercises such as walking, jogging, biking, swimming, and so on.

Some of the benefits of regular physical activities are it helps to reduce the tendency of you to develop cardiac problems as well as it helps to control your weight. Becoming physically active can also prevent you from developing other diseases; hence you are advised to find a favorite sport and get to it.

b. Get a hobby

Having a productive hobby keeps your brain busy, and it removes your mind from your pain. It helps you develop a passion for something other than what you are used to, and it also encourages you. All these are ways you can get your mind off your current condition

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3. Self-care strategies

This has to do with your mindset. If you need top he help of a therapist, you can employ the services of one. You can go for yoga classes, attend meditation classes, or go for a massage.

Fibromyalgia is a long term chronic disorder. However, you can still live your best life despite your current condition.

References;

  1. Fibromyalgia; cdc.gov
  2. Fibromyalgia; mayoclinic.org
  3. Everything you need to know about fibromyalgia; healthline.com
  4. What is fibromyalgia?; webmd.com
Fibromyalgia
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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker
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