Frequently Asked Questions
What is fibromyalgia?
“Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.
Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.” (Mayo Clinic)
Isn’t Fibromyalgia just Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
No, it isn’t. Chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) and fibromyaliga are related disorders, sharing the common symptom of severe fatigue as well as other minor symptoms. The difference between the two lies in the predominance of pain. Severe pain is the marker for fibromyalgia, while severe fatigue is the marker for CFIDS.
Still feeling a bit uncertain? Check out Karen Lee Richard’s About.com post “Is It Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue?”. It is a condensed but informative discussion about the similarities and differences between the two illnesses.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
The symptoms are many and resemble other illness. Also, each person with fibromyalgia exhibits his/her symptoms uniquely. Thus, what one person may experience, another may not. Below are the recorded symptoms that may be experienced by someone with fibromyalgia.
“Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Chronic muscle pain, muscle spasms, or tightness
- Moderate or severe fatigue and decreased energy
- Insomnia or waking up feeling just as tired as when you went to sleep
- Stiffness upon waking or after staying in one position for too long
- Difficulty remembering, concentrating, and performing simple mental tasks (“fibro fog”)
- Abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and constipation alternating with diarrhea (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Tension or migraine headaches
- Jaw and facial tenderness
- Sensitivity to one or more of the following: odors, noise, bright lights, medications, certain foods, and cold
- Feeling anxious or depressed
- Numbness or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs, or feet
- Increase in urinary urgency or frequency (irritable bladder)
- Reduced tolerance for exercise and muscle pain after exercise
- A feeling of swelling (without actual swelling) in the hands and feet
Fibromyalgia symptoms may intensify depending on the time of day — morning, late afternoon, and evening tend to be the worst times. Symptoms may also get worse with fatigue, tension, inactivity, changes in the weather, cold or drafty conditions, overexertion, hormonal fluctuations (such as just before your period or during menopause), stress, depression,or other emotional factors.” (WebMD)
How is it diagnosed?
Fibromyalgia proves a difficult diagnosed and can be misdiagnosed. Lab tests do not prove useful in diagnosing the illness either, but they are useful in ruling out other medical conditions. If it is believed that a person may have fibromyalgia, receiving a confirmed diagnosis may occur after having seen a gastroenterologist (IBS), gynecologist (PCOS, if you are female), dermatologist (hirsutism/excessive facial hair if you are female), and a rheumatologist (pain and inflammation).
The diagnostic criteria for diagnosis is:
- Widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body for a minimum of three months
- At least 11 of the 18 specified tender points (see above diagram)
The 18 sites used for the fibromyalgia diagnosis cluster around the neck, shoulder, chest, hip, knee, and elbow regions. The finger pressure that your doctor must apply to these areas during an exam is just enough to cause the nail bed to blanch or become white. (FM Network News)
Is there a cure for fibromyalgia?
The simple answer? No, not yet. It is possible, however, for the illness to go into remission. It is, however, a chronic illness and symptoms can and do return often unexpectedly.
Since it’s chronic, what are the available treatments?
Like the illness, the methods of treatment are unique to the individual. Treatment depends upon many factors: economical, sociological, biological, psychological, etc. Of course, there are recommended medications, such as Cymbalta, Savella and Effexor. These medications are antidepressants that help to relieve pain, fatigue and sleep problems. Other antidepressants that may be prescribed are Prozac, Paxil, and Celexa.
In combination with the above medications, NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen, aspirin, etc., are useful in pain management.
Of course, all medication usage should be confirmed and monitored by your doctor.
Isn’t it just a psychological problem?
The answer is a complex one. As noted above, fibromyalgia can begin after experiencing physical or emotional trauma–this is evidenced by the large number of patients who report having had such experiences. Thus, on one hand it can be perceived as psychosomatic. As research has progressed, however, we have come to understand there is an actually an organic aspect to the illness that involves the brain’s misinterpretation of pain. Perhaps the easiest way to look at the illness is as Psychology Today puts it:
“[Fibromyalgia] resides at the intersection of internal medicine, neurology, and psychiatry. Hopefully, research advances will continue to shed light on this poorly understood disorder and will lead to safer and more effective treatments.” (Psychology Today)
What can I do to help someone who has fibromyalgia?
Well, every person is different in how they desire to be helped by others. Still, there are some general things that you can do, such as:
- Listen. To be blunt, having a chronic illness can suck. It can suck your happiness away from you. It can suck your livelihood away from you. It can suck you self-concept away from you. Having someone there to listen to you really helps, especially when the illness seems to be sucking away your very reason from you.
- Be Proactive. Fibromyalgia can be debilitating, taking away even the ability to get up out of bed. So, imagine trying to get to the store, or getting other errands done. If you know that someone is experiencing a major flare-up, why not help them out by preparing a meal, offering to get some errands done, etc? Sometimes it can be really hard to ask for help because of the potential feelings of shame, guilt, helplessness and hopelessness that it can trigger.
- Ask Questions. If you don’t know, then don’t pretend to know what’s going on. Do not assume how a person is feeling based upon their external appearance. Simply ask, if you want to know. Of course, don’t ask every single moment–that can be both annoying and disheartening.
- Think Before You Speak. Have some thoughts on the causes for fibromyalgia? Or how it can be fixed? Think you’ve got the best motivational speech to effect change? Keep it to yourself. Seriously. One of the things that people with fibromyalgia may encounter are those people who are determined to fix their illness for them. It is a lovely gesture that you may want someone to get better quickly. Pushing someone to feel better by trying this, that and the other, will only create discord in the relationship as the person with fibromyalgia may believe that they are being perceived as not trying to take care of themselves or not wanting to get better.
- Share, Don’t Compare. This goes along with the above “think before you speak”. Do you know someone else who has fibromyalgia and is doing fabulously? Well, that’s wonderful. Did you find out the details as to how this person got better: what medicines they take, etc.? Are you thinking that it’s a great idea to share this? Well, that’s great, too. Be mindful, however, of how you share information. Try not to make comparison between what one person with fibromyalgia is doing versus another. The illness is unique to the person.
- Check Out: 12 Things You Should Not To Say to Someone with a Chronic Health Condition. (Healthline News)
What can I do if I think I might have fibromyalgia?
First, document the occurrences of your symptoms for some time. Without information about your experienced symptoms and their frequency, it may be difficult for your doctor to understand why you believe that you have the illness. In essence, you have to become a researcher of your body.
Second, go to your doctor with the information. Chances are that he or she will refer you to a rheumatologist.
Third, if it is that you have fibromyalgia, get informed by visiting medical sites or joining an FMS online community. The more information you have, the better off you are.
If you do have fibromyalgia, more than likely you will have to make some important changes to your life. These chances may occur in various aspects of your daily life (sometimes all), from eating to working.
Also, if you have questions or just need a friendly word, then send me an email and I’ll be glad to help out in whatever way I can: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And Remember, Fibromyalgia Is Not All In Your Head!