Often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain. Symptoms of fibromyalgia can also include a number of vague sensations, along with sleep disturbances and memory problems.
What Causes the Disorder?
Experts do not know the exact cause of fibromyalgia; however, there are a number of theories related to stress, genetics and hormonal disturbances. Although there is no universal consensus about the cause, most researchers believe a combination of physical and emotional stressors may cause repeated nerve stimulation, which alters brain function. As a result, patients are thought to experience increased levels of certain chemicals, which amplify painful sensations.
Widespread musculoskeletal pain is the primary symptom associated with fibromyalgia. That said, many people also experience numerous other troubling symptoms, including:
- Constant dull pain above and below the waist that lasts at least three months
- Fatigue that persists despite adequate sleep
- Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome
- Cognitive difficulties, often referred to as “fibro fog”
- Headaches, depression and/or cramping in the lower abdomen
What Are Common Fibromyalgia Treatments?
Certain medications can improve sleep and reduce pain associated with fibromyalgia. Common options include:
- Naproxen sodium, ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain
- Antidepressants such as milnacipran or duloxetine to ease fatigue and pain
- Fluoxetine or amitriptyline to help promote sleep
- Anti-seizure drugs such as pregabalin or gabapentin for certain types of pain
Some doctors also prescribe tramadol for severe fibromyalgia pain; however, narcotics are generally not advised due to the risk of dependence.
The Role of Therapy
Because it causes chronic pain and lack of sleep, fibromyalgia can interfere with a person’s ability to function at home or at work. Poor understanding of the condition can also lead to depression, frustration and health-related anxiety. Many people benefit from counseling, which can improve a person’s ability to cope with stress and chronic pain. Massage and physical therapy may also be helpful in certain instances.
If you suspect you may be suffering from fibromyalgia, talk to your doctor. While there is no definitive lab test to confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, your physician can rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms. He or she can also help you develop a treatment plan that can reduce symptoms and improve the quality of your life.