You hurt all over and feel exhausted most of the day. You’ve undergone numerous tests and your doctor is unable to make a specific diagnosis. You may be suffering from fibromyalgia pain. Here’s what you need to know about this syndrome, its causes, and potential treatments.

1. What causes fibromyalgia pain? 

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by fatigue and widespread pain. It occurs specifically in muscles, ligaments and tendons. Some 2{a383e613923f1ec0b660552245e3f42054e0701ee00b28ee89aef1fa59f89a3d} of the population suffers from fibromyalgia, and women make up 85{a383e613923f1ec0b660552245e3f42054e0701ee00b28ee89aef1fa59f89a3d} of these patients. Approximately 25{a383e613923f1ec0b660552245e3f42054e0701ee00b28ee89aef1fa59f89a3d} recover, but the remaining 75{a383e613923f1ec0b660552245e3f42054e0701ee00b28ee89aef1fa59f89a3d} live with pain and fatigue for years.

Researchers have yet to find a single trigger to induce fibromyalgia but have narrowed-down the signs, symptoms, and treatments that have shown to be effective. The name of the condition, fibromyalgia, suggests that widespread pain is originating from the fibrous tissue or muscles. However, there is no evidence in the literature to suggest that there is actually damage or pathology in those fibrous tissues or muscles. In fact, more recent data supports the notion that fibromyalgia is a disorder of the central nervous system’s pain-processing pathways.

Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. These changes involve an abnormal rise in levels of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that help signal pain. Essentially, the end result is that the brain then overreacts to pain signals.

2. Is fibromyalgia real?

Yes.

That’s a simple answer, but it’s correct. Since it took so long for doctors to create diagnosis criteria for fibromyalgia, some people mistakenly think that fibromyalgia pain is “fake” or “imagined.” It’s not. Fibromyalgia is very real, affecting over five million people in the U.S. (though some estimates are as high as ten million).

3. How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

Too often, patients go for months or years without getting a correct diagnosis. This is because fibromyalgia symptoms overlap with many other conditions. Because of this, it’s always important to visit a pain specialist who has experience diagnosing and treating patients with fibromyalgia pain. Treating fibromyalgia symptoms early, rather than later, can help you have better treatment outcomes.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases writes:

“A doctor familiar with fibromyalgia, however, can make a diagnosis based on criteria established by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR): a history of widespread pain lasting more than 3 months, and other general physical symptoms including fatigue, waking unrefreshed, and cognitive (memory or thought) problems. In making the diagnosis, doctors consider the number of areas throughout the body in which the patient has had pain in the past week.”

4. Is there a test for fibromyalgia?

Widely-supported fibromyalgia tests are not available. Diagnosis is done through cataloguing specific symptoms and ruling out other conditions. There has been some news about a fibromyalgia test called the FM/a Test. However, it is still in the preliminary stages of study. If it works, it promises to differentiate between the biomarkers for fibromyalgia and other similar conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis.

And, while there is no definitive test for fibromyalgia yet, your doctor may still order blood or other lab tests to rule out other conditions.

5. What does fibromyalgia feel like?

Signs and symptoms occur differently in all patients. Fibromyalgia symptoms can vary depending on weather, stress, physical activity or even the time of day. Symptoms of fibromyalgia often begin after physical or emotional trauma. The pain associated with fibromyalgia is described as a constant dull ache, typically occurring in the muscles. In order to be considered widespread, the patient must experience pain occurring on both sides of the body and above and below the waist.

Fibromyalgia is also sometimes characterized by increased pain when definite pressure is applied to specific tender points on the body. The 18 tender point locations include:

  • Back of the head
  • Top of shoulders
  • Between shoulder blades
  • Upper hips
  • Sides of hips
  • Inner knees
  • Upper chest
  • Front side of neck

These tender points are not used for diagnosis anymore, but they can be a helpful starting point.

People with fibromyalgia often awaken tired, regardless of how much sleep they are getting. Experts believe that that these patients rarely reach the deep restorative sleep stage. Cognitive difficulties, also known as fibro fog, are another common symptom in fibromyalgia. Click to learn more about 27 other common fibromyalgia symptoms.

6. Who suffers from fibromyalgia?  

As MedlinePlus writes, “Anyone can get it, but it is most common in middle-aged women.” In fact, eight out of every ten fibromyalgia patients are women.

Fibromyalgia pain is also much more common in patients who suffer from co-existing conditions such as:

  • Sleep syndromes
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel and bladder syndromes
  • Lupus
  • Raynaud’s syndrome
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Endometriosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

7. Can men have fibromyalgia?

Yes. Up to 20{a383e613923f1ec0b660552245e3f42054e0701ee00b28ee89aef1fa59f89a3d} of fibromyalgia patients are men.

A disproportionate amount of women do suffer from this disease, but that doesn’t mean men aren’t also affected. And, since fibro is so often diagnosed in women, it can make it more difficult for men to get a diagnosis and treatment for their symptoms.

8. What causes fibromyalgia flare ups?

The National Fibromyalgia Association notes that fibromyalgia flare-ups may be caused by:

  • Cold or humid weather
  • Non-restorative sleep
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Excessive physical activity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Stress

Each patient will have a different experience and different triggers. Because of that, it’s important to keep a pain diary to track your symptoms. Over enough time, and consultation with your doctor, you can begin to identify and then avoid triggers for your symptoms.

9. Is fibromyalgia an autoimmune disease?

While fibromyalgia shares many symptoms with autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, it is not an autoimmune disease itself. The American College of Rheumatology notes:

“The causes of fibromyalgia are unclear. They may be different in different people. Current research suggests involvement of the nervous system, particularly the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Fibromyalgia is not from an autoimmune, inflammation, joint, or muscle disorder.”

10. Is fibromyalgia a disability?

Many people who suffer from fibromyalgia pain apply for disability benefits. In order to be considered a disability, Healthline explains that you typically have to meet the following requirements:

  • Get a fibromyalgia diagnosis
  • Experience severe pain that prevents you from performing everyday tasks
  • Have symptoms for a long period of time, for at least one year
  • Provide evidence that your fibromyalgia symptoms directly prevent you from engaging in normal work activities

Applying for disability benefits will depend on your line of your work, your symptoms, and your state. If you’re unable to qualify for disability benefits, you can also talk to your employer about reasonable accommodations they can provide in the workplace.

15 Things You Need To Know About Fibromyalgia Pain | PainDoctor.com

11. Is fibromyalgia hereditary?

Fibromyalgia isn’t exclusively a genetic disease, but most doctors agree that it has a genetic component. Mayo Clinicexplains:

“Because fibromyalgia tends to run in families, there may be certain genetic mutations that may make you more susceptible to developing the disorder.”

They also note that this occurs in conjunction with other triggers or causes, such as an infection or trauma.

12. Is fibromyalgia fatal?

Fibromyalgia by itself is not fatal. However, many of its symptoms can lead to:

The CDC explains:

“Women with fibromyalgia have low quality-of-life. If you’re a woman with fibromyalgia you may have 40{a383e613923f1ec0b660552245e3f42054e0701ee00b28ee89aef1fa59f89a3d} less physical function and 67{a383e613923f1ec0b660552245e3f42054e0701ee00b28ee89aef1fa59f89a3d} less mental health… Higher rates of major depression. Adults with fibromyalgia are more than 3 times more likely to have major depression than adults without fibromyalgia. Screening and treatment for depression is extremely important….Higher death rates from suicide and injuries. Death rates from suicide and injuries are higher among fibromyalgia patients, but overall mortality among adults with fibromyalgia is similar to the general population.”

If you suffer from fibromyalgia pain, you must know that mental health issues are a common component of the syndrome. It is not in your head. It’s important to get support for this aspect of your condition, just like you would physical symptoms. Fibromyalgia support groups (whether online or in person) can be an invaluable resource, as can therapy. Talk to your doctor immediately if you’re ever considering self-harm or suicide. They can help you find the support and help you need.

13. Can fibromyalgia go away?

Unfortunately, fibromyalgia pain typically doesn’t “go away.” For some people, symptom severity can wax and wane over the years.

But, as the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association writes:

“There is no cure for fibromyalgia. Multi-disciplinary approaches for management and relief of symptoms are often recommended. Medications, cognitive behavioral therapies, and gentle exercise are the most common combinations. In partnership with a healthcare provider, development of self-management strategies and long-term health goals may reduce the chronic symptoms and the frequency, duration, and intensity of periodic flares (rapid increase of symptoms).”

14. How do pain doctors treat fibromyalgia? 

Fibromyalgia pain treatments range from lifestyle changes to control symptoms to medication to interventional treatments. You can find a more thorough explanation of fibromyalgia treatments in a recent post.

Lifestyle changes

Since there is no cure for fibromyalgia, many therapies focus on managing symptoms. The best management strategies have no side effects and are non-invasive. These include:

  • Making dietary changes to avoid triggers
  • Practicing good sleep hygiene to encourage better sleep
  • Getting low- to moderate-intensity exercise on a consistent basis
  • Practicing yoga or other meditative routines

The Arthritis Foundation has more suggestions for practicing effective self-care for fibromyalgia pain. You can also subscribe to our blog to follow along with all of our fibromyalgia pain posts and suggestions.

Medications 

Medications can help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia pain and improve sleep. Some of those are non-narcotic analgesics, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs. Because the underlying causes of fibromyalgia likely involves the chemicals in the brain, most of these medications help to restore normal balance to the brain’s chemistry. Ask your doctor if any types of these medications may benefit your individual symptoms.

Complementary therapies

Spinal manipulation is one of many forms of therapy chiropractors use to treat restricted spinal mobility. The goal is to restore spinal movement, improving joint and muscle function, and decreasing pain. Chiropractors manipulate the spine using varied degrees of force and patient body positions. Manipulation does not need to be forceful or painful to be effective. Chiropractors may also use forms of massage and stretching to relax muscle spams.

Specific physical therapy exercises can also help reduce pain by restoring muscle balance, building strength, and range of motion. Stretching may also help.

Finally, mental health therapy strengthens a patient’s coping abilities and teaches techniques for dealing with symptoms. This type of therapy can be offered individually, in classes, or even digitally.

Interventional treatments

Finally, your doctor will discuss interventional treatments if lifestyle changes or complementary therapies haven’t worked. Neuromodulation is one option for controlling or stopping pain signals from damaged nerves to your brain. This can be implanted, as in a spinal cord stimulator, or applied directly to painful areas with a TENs unit. These can be great options for managing severe, intractable fibromyalgia pain.

15. How to tell if you have fibromyalgia

If you suffer from widespread bodily pain, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties, you may be suffering from fibromyalgia. You won’t know for sure, however, until you contact a pain specialist to get a diagnosis. They can help rule out other similar conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

These facts are somber, but if you suffer from fibromyalgia don’t lose hope. Many pain professionals have dedicated their lives to uncovering cures and treatments for fibromyalgia. At Pain Doctor, we recognize the burden of fibromyalgia and work with doctors who offer treatments that are individualized for each patient. If you believe you suffer from fibromyalgia, click the button below to find a pain specialist in your area. They can help you get a diagnosis and get your life back from fibromyalgia pain.

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