Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder, the cause of which hasn’t been discovered. However, for the approximately 4 million Americans who have been diagnosed with this debilitating condition, its symptoms are definitive: chronic pain, sleep problems, fatigue, and often emotional and mental distress. So what exactly is fibromyalgia, who is at risk and how is it treated?
Misdiagnosed, but Not Misunderstood
While it’s the second most common medical condition that affects muscles, joints, and bones, fibromyalgia is often mistaken for rheumatoid arthritis, gout, anxiety, even Lyme Disease. That’s because its symptoms are so varied that one person could have gastric reflux, while another could have chronic joint inflammation. Because there is not one known cause, doctors usually rule out all other possibilities before concluding the condition is in fact fibromyalgia.
This is because fibromyalgia is not one distinct disease, but rather, the result of a combination of factors that may together contribute to the development of this disease. In fact, researchers now believe that many cases of fibromyalgia are the result of a “perfect storm” of infectious disease, physical and/or emotional trauma, and/or hormonal changes that together or separately trigger development of generalized and chronic pain, sleep disruption, fatigue, malaise, and mood or memory issues.
Those with certain diseases may be more prone to fibromyalgia. In particular, spinal arthritis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis might also be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. These diseases distribute pain and stiffness throughout the body and have been known to co-exist with fibromyalgia.
In addition to the conditions mentioned above, there are other risk factors associated with a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Age and gender are factors. Fibromyalgia can affect men, women and children, but middle-aged women are more susceptible to the disease and account for 90 percent of the cases in the United States.
Family history could prove to be a risk factor. Also, persons who’ve been exposed to traumatic events or those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress may be more susceptible to fibromyalgia. Viral infections could contribute, as could injuries that have occurred over and over again, such as joint stress or knee displacement. As with other conditions, obesity plays a strong role in a fibromyalgia diagnosis.
Fibromyalgia can be debilitating and anyone who’s been diagnosed with the disease could be hospitalized twice as often as someone without it. Depression is often associated with the condition and there are higher incidents of suicide amongst people with fibromyalgia. Mental health screening is extremely important for patients with the disease. Like the disease itself, depression can be treated and will provide a better outlook on life for persons who feel their quality of life is lacking.
Improving Quality of Life
Quality of life is affected by fibromyalgia, being that it touches a person both physically and mentally. However, there are steps that can be taken to improve the quality of life for persons with the disease.
Fatigue is an ever-present symptom, but getting rest and avoiding stressful situations can help. Certain symptoms, like restless leg syndrome, work against the patient getting enough rest. However, attending to habits that include going to bed at the same time every night and waking the same time each day will help. Alcohol and caffeine will affect how you sleep at night, too. Avoid food and beverages that contain caffeine and stay away from alcohol in the late afternoon to early evening.
Exercise is always a good option, in that endorphins are naturally pain suppressants and mood lifters. Additionally, no matter how tired you may feel during the day, avoiding naps may ensure you sleep better during the night hours. If you can’t get by without a nap during the day, limit it to a short one and stick to it.
What you eat and when you eat it will affect your ability to sleep at night. A healthy, balanced diet provides access to more energy, which is optimum for persons with fibromyalgia.
Finally, a work/life balance is very important to anyone’s quality of life, but perhaps especially to a person with fibromyalgia. Depending on the demands of your job, it may become necessary to adjust the number of hours you work per day/week. Don’t sacrifice your health. Find a way to cut back.
Because of the many and varied symptoms of fibromyalgia, no two patients are treated the same. Most doctors use an interdisciplinary approach that combines medication and physical therapy, as well as the lifestyle strategies discussed above.
If you are ready to relieve your pain, we are ready to help. Our licensed physical therapists offer a wide range of services to relieve pain and restore mobility. To schedule an appointment with one of our physical therapists, please call our Brecksville office at (440) 746-1730, or call our Twinsburg office at (330) 963-2920. Same-day appointments may often be available so please call the office of your choice if you wish to be seen today. If you prefer, you may submit an appointment request via our Request an Appointment form.