Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that can be hard to diagnose and hard to understand. Somewhere between 6 and 12 million Americans suffer from this disorder, but it still remains mysterious. What is fibromyalgia, and when should you ask your doctor about it?
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia has a list of symptoms that can be confusing:
- multisite pain, including chronic muscle or joint pain or tenderness
- trouble sleeping
- emotional or mental health concerns, including depression and confusion
None of these symptoms is specific only to fibromyalgia.
There are no specific tests to confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, either. No blood test or imaging test can say for sure that a patient has fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is usually diagnosed in middle aged people who have had these symptoms for three months or more. However, the condition can also be diagnosed in adolescence or old age. Fibromyalgia is much more common in women than in men.
There are other conditions that make this condition more likely to occur:
- having a rheumatic disease like arthritis
- family members with fibromyalgia
- stress or traumatic life events
If any of these things describes you, your doctor may be more likely to think about fibromyalgia.
No wonder diagnosing fibromyalgia can be difficult! Your healthcare provider will work to eliminate other possibilities before making a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
What is fibromyalgia?
At this point, researchers don’t know what causes fibromyalgia. It seems to be associated with arthritis, and is cared for by rheumatologists.
Fibromyalgia may involve poor communication of pain signals. Some researchers believe that patients with fibromyalgia have pain receptors that are, to use a metaphor, set on “high.” They cause patients to experience more pain than they otherwise would.
Fibromyalgia may combine a genetic predisposition with a life experience of illness or trauma that causes the patient to develop the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia. However, the condition can be managed effectively.
There are medications that can help cope with the pain, fatigue, and mental health symptoms. Therapies like dry needling can provide relief.
There are also lifestyle changes that can help:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat fruits and vegetables with lean protein and whole grains
- Avoid sugar
- Stay hydrated
If you think you might have fibromyalgia, talk with your physician.