Two percent of the United States population suffers from a chronic condition known as fibromyalgia. It occurs more often in women than men and the risk of developing it increases with age. Widespread pain, fatigue, abnormal pain processing, and multiple tender points on the body in which slight pressure causes pain, characterize fibromyalgia.
People with fibromyalgia describe the pain as being a constant dull ache. It arises from the muscles and is widespread, occurring all over the body. There are eighteen tender point locations including the top of the shoulders, between the shoulder blades, the sides of the hips, inner knees, and outer elbows.
Despite getting enough sleep, people with fibromyalgia continue to feel tired, possibly because their sleep seldom reaches the deep restorative stage. As a result, they have profound exhaustion and poor stamina. Restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea are also linked to fibromyalgia.
To diagnose fibromyalgia, doctors rely on patient reports of symptoms and a physical examination, including a tender point manual examination. Because no laboratory tests are currently available to diagnose fibromyalgia, patients usually wait an average of five years before getting an accurate diagnosis. This is often after years of doctor visits, negative laboratory tests, and extensive medical costs.
Treatment of fibromyalgia can include prescription drugs as well as lifestyle changes. Patients, with the help of their physician, need to plan an individualized approach that will include pain management, sleep management, psychological support, and complementary therapies.
There are several prescription drugs currently approved for the treatment of fibromyalgia pain and sold under the brand names of Cymbalta, Savella and Lyrica. Lidocaine injections into tender point locations, non-narcotic pain relievers, or low doses of antidepressants, which can also improve sleep, are other possible recommendations to treat the pain. Additionally, a regular exercise and stretching program will aid in maintaining muscle tone while reducing pain and stiffness.
Since fatigue is one of its characteristics, it is important for people with fibromyalgia to adapt a healthy sleep regimen that includes a regular bedtime and awakening time, a quiet comfortable sleeping environment, relaxation exercises, light exercise, and avoidance of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol before bed.
Organized fibromyalgia support groups can provide emotional support to the fibromyalgia patient. Communication with family and friends is also important so they can understand the illness, and its affect on the patient. Counseling sessions with trained professionals may also be beneficial.
Complementary therapies, including alternative treatments, can help to deal with fibromyalgia. Some of these are physical therapy, light aerobics, acupressure, yoga, chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, and water therapy.
Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, patients can work together with their health care professionals to develop a treatment plan that will give them some relief and make their condition more manageable.