Fibromyalgia

Woman having pain, also holding her head with emotional distressFibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that affects millions of Americans each year—primarily women—and can be both physically and emotionally distressing. Fibromyalgia comes from the Latin term for fibrous tissue (fibro) and the Greek words for muscle (myo) and pain (algia). Indeed, fibromyalgia sufferers experience widespread chronic muscle pain.

An interesting note: fibromyalgia was once considered a mental disorder, but research has shown that people with fibromyalgia may have a lower threshold for pain. This could be from injury, emotional distress, or abnormal levels of substances in the brain and spinal cord that are linked to pain sensitivity, but the exact cause is unclear.

People with fibromyalgia also report having sleep disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and migraines. Doctors have yet to discover the relationship between these other conditions and fibromyalgia.

Common Questions About Fibromyalgia

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia? 
Chronic widespread pain is the most common symptom of fibromyalgia. However, patients typically experience multiple symptoms, such as localized pain and extreme fatigue. Many people with fibromyalgia also have problems sleeping and anxiety and/or depression.

What other conditions "co-exist" with fibromyalgia?

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritable bladder
  • Migraine headaches
  • Raynaud's Syndrome
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • TMJ or Temporomandibular joint disorder

What causes fibromyalgia?
Doctors have yet to determine fibromyalgia's exact cause, though research findings are shedding light on the condition. Possible causes include abnormalities in the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems, genetics, muscle tissue abnormalities, and abnormal blood flow.

Like many disorders, it's quite possible that fibromyalgia does not simply have one cause; rather, many factors may impact your likelihood of developing the condition.

What are some treatment options to deal with fibromyalgia?
The type of treatment you'll need will depend on your symptoms. For example, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant to not only reduce your pain but also address depression. If you're stressed or have trouble sleeping, an exercise program will help.

Medications to treat fibromyalgia include:

  • Lyrica (pregabalin) is a nerve pain medication
  • Cymbalta (duloxetine hydrochloride) an antidepressant that may help manage pain
  • Savella (milnacipran HCI) is an antidepressant and drug for nerve pain
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers

Some other common treatment options include alternative treatments such as massage and biofeedback therapy to help manage stress. Your doctor may recommend that you see a physical therapist and/or chiropractor, and a psychologist may address fibromyalgia's mental and emotional toll.

Who treats fibromyalgia?
Your primary care physician (PCP) may be able to diagnose and treat your condition. But if your PCP doesn't understand enough about fibromyalgia, a specialist might be your best option.

Rheumatologists, arguably more than any other physician, closely follow fibromyalgia developments and will likely have the best knowledge base on the condition.

You may also want to visit a neurologist for medications to control your pain.

Another option is to consult a pain management doctor. These physicians treat all forms of pain, including that caused by fibromyalgia.

Updated on: 08/23/16
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