What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia, or FM, is a medical disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain and allodynia, a heightened and painful response to pressure. Derived from new Latin, fibro-, meaning "fibrous tissues", Greek myo-, "muscle", and Greek algos-, "pain"; the term literally means "muscle and connective tissue pain". Other symptoms include debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance, and joint stiffness.

Some patients also report difficulty with swallowing, bowel and bladder abnormalities, numbness and tingling, and cognitive dysfunction. Fibromyalgia is frequently comorbid with psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety and stress-related disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder. Fibromyalgia, a central nervous system disorder, is described as a 'central sensitization syndrome' caused by neurobiological abnormalities which act to produce physiological pain and cognitive impairments as well as neuro-psychological symptomatology. With this there is no known cause and no cure! Plain English: Abnormalities in the brain cause severe pain, stiffness, fatigue, depression, and fibro fog (clouding of the mind). This illness leaves its victims barely able to move without the use of strong Pharmaceuticals (narcotics). It severs careers, marriages, relationships, and one’s own identity (causing mental and physical bankruptcy). With no cure, and a serious deficiency of medical practitioners qualified in this field, as well as minimal support from insurance companies and government, little public awareness, and often no support from family and friends, the victim often faces suicide.

Thus, the primary goal of Fibromyalgia Well Spring Foundation is to help those with Fibromyalgia to lead a more rewarding life.

What causes fibromyalgia?

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not known. However, a number of potentially responsible factors have been suggested. For many people, fibromyalgia develops gradually without any known cause. Other people attribute its onset to a variety of triggers including problems with the joints in the neck and low back, motor vehicle accidents, work-related injuries, viral illnesses, surgery, infections, emotional trauma or physical or emotional stress.

How common is fibromyalgia?

It affects 48,000 people in British Columbia, including women, men and children. It can occur at any age.

What are the warning signs of fibromyalgia?

  • Stiffness, especially in the morning, and pain in muscles and joints all over the body.
  • Trouble sleeping at night and a feeling of being very tired all the time.
  • Numbness in muscles and joints.
  • Poor memory and concentration.

Other warning signs may include depression, tension, migraine headaches and pain in the jaw.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

If your doctor thinks you have fibromyalgia, he or she will probably perform a physical examination. To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you must have experienced widespread pain for a period of three months or longer. The pain must be above and below the waist, and on both the left and right sides of the body. Another characteristic feature of fibromyalgia is the existence of at least 11 (of a possible 18) distinct sites of deep muscle tenderness that hurt when touched firmly. These include the side of the neck, the top of the shoulder blade, the outside of the upper buttock and hip joint, and the inside of the knee. Your doctor will test this by pressing on these spots with his or her thumb.

In addition to widespread pain and specific tenderness in at least 11 of the 18 points, many people with fibromyalgia experience a wide variety of other symptoms. Because some of these symptoms are also common in other types of arthritis, your doctor may order blood tests, X-rays and other laboratory tests. These tests are done to find out if other diseases are present, and they do not specifically diagnose fibromyalgia.

What can you do about fibromyalgia?

  • There is no cure for fibromyalgia. The goal of treatment is to help in the management of pain and other symptoms.

  • Your active involvement in developing your prescribed treatment plan is essential.

  • Learn as much as you can about this disease. Speaking with people who are specialists in arthritis care can provide you with the information you need.

  • Exercise may help reduce pain and will keep muscles from becoming weak. If you have fibromyalgia you should start exercising slowly. The best time to exercise is when you feel you have energy. The key is to strike a balance between too much activity (which can strain and tire muscles) and too little activity (which can increase pain and stiffness and lead to further weakness).

  • Applying heat may give you some temporary relief of pain. Many people with fibromyalgia ease their discomfort using a heating pad, a hot shower or a whirlpool. Heat helps to reduce pain and stiffness by relaxing aching muscles and increasing circulation to the area.

  • Explore lifestyle management. You may need to make changes to how you approach life. People with fibromyalgia often find it is not possible to remain as active as they once were. The first step in lifestyle management is listening to and respecting what your body is telling you. Keep a diary over a period of several weeks or longer, and record your pain and fatigue levels in relation to other things that are happening in your life, such as your mood, level of activity, stress and quality of sleep. Once you are aware of the factors that may be out of balance in your life, there are a number of things that you can learn to do to improve your pain, fatigue, sleep, mood and stress. Your doctor may be able to help you develop strategies to manage your lifestyle, or may refer you to a therapist who can work with you to change your daily activities.

What medications are used for fibromyalgia?

  • Medicines called tricyclics and tetracyclics are often used to treat fibromyalgia. These medicines are also used to treat depression. They increase a person's levels of serotonin, a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain. Research has shown that low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and other symptoms of fibromyalgia, including bowel problems, migraine headaches and anxiety.

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs-pronounced en-seds) and corticosteroids are two types of medications often used to treat many forms of arthritis. However, neither has been shown to be useful in treating fibromyalgia.

Additional Tips for Living Well

The course of fibromyalgia is variable and the results of various types of treatment differ from person to person. Most people with fibromyalgia can maintain an active lifestyle and manage very well with the combined benefits of medication, balancing exercise and rest, and employing joint protection techniques.