What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is widespread pain in the muscles and soft tissues above and below the waist and on both sides of the body. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome-a set of symptoms that happen together but do not have a known cause. In this syndrome, the nervous system (nerves, spinal cord, and brain) is not able to control what it feels, so ordinary feelings from your muscles, joints, and soft tissues are experienced as pain. People with fibromyalgia feel pain and/or tenderness even when there is no injury or inflammation.
Fibromyalgia does not harm your muscles, joints, or organs, and there are many things you can do to control it. When it is not controlled, you may not have any energy, or you may feel depressed or have trouble sleeping. These and other symptoms can be bad enough to cause problems with your work and home life. With treatment, most people with fibromyalgia are able to continue working and participating in daily activities. Some people adjust their work duties and lifestyle if their symptoms are severe.
What causes fibromyalgia?
Experts have theories about what may cause fibromyalgia, but there is not enough evidence to support any single cause. Some think that people with fibromyalgia may have nerve cells that are too sensitive. Others think that chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) may be out of balance. Or it may be related to problems with the deep phase of sleep.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain in the muscles, soft tissues, back, or neck. Also certain spots on the body hurt when you press directly on them. Experts call these tender points, but you may also hear them called trigger points.
Fibromyalgia also causes sleep problems and tiredness.
Less common symptoms include headaches, morning stiffness, trouble concentrating, and irritable bowel syndrome. As with many conditions that cause chronic pain, it is common for people with fibromyalgia to have anxiety and depression. These can make you feel worse.
Fibromyalgia is a long-lasting (chronic) condition with no cure. Symptoms tend to come and go. You may have times when you hurt more, followed by times when symptoms happen less often, hurt less, or are absent (remissions).
Some people find that their symptoms are worse in cold and damp weather, during times of stress, or when they try to do too much.
How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?
Doctors can find out if you have fibromyalgia based on two things. One is widespread pain, which means the pain is on both sides of your body above and below the waist. The other is tenderness in at least 11 of 18 points when they are pressed. Your doctor will also take steps to be sure you don't have other conditions that cause pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, systemic lupus erythematosus, or other autoimmune diseases.
How is it treated?
You may be able to control your symptoms with regular exercise and by finding better ways to handle stress. Good sleep habits are very important, too. If you have trouble sleeping, changes to your routine, schedule, and sleep surroundings can help. Counseling can help you cope with long-term (chronic) pain.
If your symptoms are troublesome, your doctor can prescribe medicines that help you feel better.
Symptoms of depression, such as a loss of interest in things you usually enjoy or changes in eating and sleeping habits, can often be successfully treated if you tell your doctor about them.
Some people with fibromyalgia also find complementary therapies helpful. These include acupuncture, massage, behavioral therapy, and relaxation techniques.
PT Hawaii Reference from WebMD Medical and Healthwise (June 24, 2009)