Fibromyalgia can be extremely debilitating, making it difficult for patients to perform even the simplest of tasks. Unfortunately, fibromyalgia is one of the least understood and often misdiagnosed conditions in the medical world because there is no clear-cut cause or conclusive diagnosis.
Additionally, fibromyalgia is often a long-term condition with no cure, and treatment is limited to managing the symptoms and improving quality of life.
What Exactly is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, tenderness, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties. While the exact cause is unknown, it’s believed to be the result of an abnormal response in the central nervous system. This abnormality causes the brain to process pain signals differently, which leads to increased pain sensitivity.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptom is unrelenting pain that can manifest as a dull ache, throbbing, sharp, or burning sensation. The pain can flare up in response to certain triggers like weather changes, stress, or strenuous physical activity.
Other common symptoms include:
- Cognitive difficulties
- Sleep disturbances
- Joint stiffness
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Tingling and numbness in the extremities
- Headaches and migraines
- Painful menstrual periods
Causes of Fibromyalgia
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but it is thought to be the result of damage or malfunction of the nervous system. This malfunction causes the brain to process pain signals differently, which leads to increased pain sensitivity.
Genetic predisposition is one of the leading risk factors for developing fibromyalgia. However, other triggering factors may play a role in the onset of the condition, including:
Trauma: Physical and emotional trauma can trigger the development of fibromyalgia.
Infection: There is evidence to suggest that various viral and bacterial infections, such as Lyme disease, HVC, and HIV, may trigger the onset of fibromyalgia.
Hormonal Imbalances: Fluctuation of certain hormones, especially estrogen, have been linked to altered pain processing and could trigger the development of fibromyalgia. This could explain why women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men.
Fibromyalgia and Joint Pain
Joint pain is one of the most common forms of chronic pain in the United States, affecting approximately 1 in 4 Americans. Fibromyalgia and joint pain often go hand in hand because the condition manifests as widespread musculoskeletal pain. This means patients experience pain in the muscles, joints, and tendons.
Previously, fibromyalgia diagnosis required the presence of pain in specific areas known as “tender points” that are located predominantly around joints throughout the body. Although the diagnostic criteria have changed over the years to reflect a broad range of symptoms, joint pain is still an important symptom for most patients diagnosed with the condition.
Fibromyalgia Diagnosis and Treatment
If you are experiencing persistent joint pain, it’s vital to see a doctor for a conclusive diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis involves a physical examination and review of your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor may also order blood tests or imaging scans to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.
While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent the condition from progressing and minimize the impact on your life. Some common fibromyalgia treatments include medications, lifestyle changes, exercise, psychological counseling, and complementary therapies.