Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is best summed up as “full-body pain.” After osteoarthritis, it is the most common musculoskeletal condition. It impairs the soft tissues and joints in the body and is chronic. Fibromyalgia can be felt in all parts of the body and can affect sleep, mood, and memory. The disorder also can lead to social isolation – it’s hard to go outside and interact with others when your body is under siege.
Women are more likely to have fibromyalgia, and fibromyalgia typically occurs in women between 25 and 60, though most people aren’t diagnosed with fibromyalgia until middle age. Children are not exempt from having fibromyalgia, however.
The symptoms target the muscles and soft tissue of the body; incapacitating fatigue accompanies the pain more often than not, making fibromyalgia a life-impacting disorder. There are some points on the body more sensitive than others – called tender or trigger points. Altogether there are 18 points; if 11 of the 18 hurt, that in conjunction with other symptoms is worthy of a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Other symptoms include depression, anxiety, social isolation, inability to sleep and/or stay asleep. Together, these symptoms are fibromyalgia syndrome. Sometimes fibromyalgia can be mistaken for other diseases, which is why it is important to talk to your doctor who can then run some tests to determine if you have fibromyalgia. The tests the doctor performs checks the blood for certain types of cells that are present only in people with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia syndrome is often abbreviated FMS.
Research is still being done to answer the “what is fibromyalgia?” question. Thankfully, a lot of progress has been made, and there are treatments available to help minimize the pain. There are now 3 FDA-approved drugs for the management of fibromyalgia pain – Lyrica, Cymbalta, and Savella – and various other over-the-counter medications that can help relieve symptoms. Lifestyle changes and stress relief can also help when it comes to easing fibromyalgia pain. As of 2013 there is also a blood test that definitely shows if someone has fibromyalgia.
The best guess medical professionals have for what causes fibromyalgia is that, in the body of a person with fibromyalgia, the central nervous system doesn’t process pain signals correctly. It has taken a long time to get fibromyalgia recognized as a real medical condition – in the past, doctors would diagnose patients suffering from the widespread pain with depression or hypochondriasis because “widespread pain” was such a vague symptom. Thankfully, advancements showed that it is a physical condition, and that the mental confusion that comes with fibromyalgia – called fibro fog – isn’t a state of mind but is instead a physical byproduct of fibromyalgia.
Maybe fibromyalgia is genetic, maybe it’s caused by trauma, maybe it’s caused by stress – but regardless, it is a serious medical condition affecting the lives of millions. There is no cure currently, only medications to help manage the pain. Research is ongoing, with medical articles coming out regularly advancing information on fibromyalgia. Ultimately, the recognition of fibromyalgia as a disease is the greatest advancement that has been made, because the most soothing treatment for this life-changing disease is support from friends and family. While that doesn’t erase the pain, it does ease the anguish of battling this unseen demon.