Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by pain in the soft fibrous tissues of the body, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The pain is widespread and often worse at rest. Fibromyalgia can occur at any age, is more common in women, and has been reported after even minor trauma. The condition affects 3 to 7 million Americans, most commonly women between 20-40 years old. The symptoms often overlap or include those of other conditions such as migraines and other headaches, depression, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and sleep disorders.

The symptoms of fibromyalgia

The symptoms of fibromyalgia symptoms vary. The most common are: pain; fatigue; and, sleep disturbances. People describe fibromyalgia as like having the flu or severe case of "the blahs." Their muscles ache, twitch, or burn.

The cause of fibromyalgia

The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. It may be related to a malfunctioning of the endocrine (hormonal) system or the autonomic nervous system. Genetic factors may play a role. Some researchers suspect abnormalities in muscle tissue, whereas others propose a viral cause. Some common triggers include: infection (viral or bacterial); an automobile accidents; emotional distress; or, one of several other medical problems (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or hypothyroidism, for example).

Preventing fibromyalgia

There no sure way to prevent fibromyalgia. A good diet, exercise, and lots of rest decrease the risk of medical problems in general and may help to prevent fibromyalgia.

Diagnosing fibromyalgia

The diagnostic criteria, describing fibromyalgia, was published by the American College of Rheumatology in the early 1990’s. It indicated that fibromyalgia can be diagnosed when eleven of eighteen specific trigger points are tender in those with otherwise characteristic complaints. There are no tests available to diagnose fibromyalgia. A careful examination and thorough laboratory testing are needed to make sure there are no other medical problems.

Treating fibromyalgia

Treatments for fibromyalgia are generally aimed at the symptoms. Improving the quality of life of the fibromyalgia sufferer is the goal.

Increasing the body's levels of serotonin and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters that modulate sleep, pain and immune system function) may be helpful. Antidepressants can be of benefit since those medications act on serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Treating insomnia with Ambien, Klonopin or Desyrel may also be of benefit.

In addition, one may try:

  • trigger point injections
  • physical or occupational therapy
  • acupuncture or acupressure
  • Relaxation/biofeedback techniques
  • osteopathic manipulation
  • chiropractic care
  • massage or
  • exercise

No single treatment for fibromyalgia is curative. Lifestyle modifications help. Sufferers should listen to their bodies, avoid over-exertion, and follow the doctors’ and therapists’ advice.

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Last modified: 11/18/09