If you’ve been experiencing pain with no clear cause, trouble sleeping or mood and memory issues and can’t pinpoint the source of your discomfort, there’s a chance you could have fibromyalgia. It’s possible you haven’t heard much about this disorder until fairly recently, despite it being traced back to the 1800s. Part of the lack of awareness may be because the first prescription medication approved by the FDA to manage fibromyalgia pain wasn’t released until 2007. There’s actually a wealth of information available about fibromyalgia. Here’s a crash course to get you started.
Causes and Symptoms
What causes fibromyalgia is tricky to answer because we’re not really sure what causes it yet. There are theories though. Physicians believe heredity, accidents or injuries, trauma (such as being in war), infections (such as hepatitis C or Lyme disease), autoimmune disorders or severe emotional stress may all have a hand in the onset of fibromyalgia.
The symptoms of fibromyalgia can often indicate other health issues if looked at separately, so make sure to take note of everything that you’ve been feeling when you talk to your physician. Here are some of the most prominent symptoms associated with fibromyalgia:
- Pain – more specifically, tender spots on areas of the body. These areas are usually the front and back of the neck, mid-to upper-back of the shoulders, upper chest, elbows, upper buttocks, hips and knees.
- Pain produced by contact that wouldn’t normally cause pain, such as during a handshake or hug.
- Hypersensitivity in other senses, such as bright lights, loud sounds or changes in temperature.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Memory issues.
- Mood swings.
How Do I Know if I Have Fibromyalgia?
The only way to know for sure if you have fibromyalgia is to take an inventory of your symptoms and then see your physician. Years ago, doctors were made to do a tender point test to see where on a patient’s body they were experiencing pain. Now, however, a diagnosis can be given if the patient has been experiencing widespread pain for more than three months as long as no other medical condition can be found to cause pain. There is no blood test to confirm you have fibromyalgia, but blood tests may be conducted to make sure you’re not suffering pain from another underlying cause.
Is There a Cure?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are ways to manage pain and help prevent flare ups.
First and foremost, a fibromyalgia diagnosis can help patients mentally. In many cases, patients are experiencing pain for months – most of the time with no discernable cause. This can lead to friends, family and loved ones assuming the patient is “exaggerating” or making things up. A diagnosis alone can help put a name on the disorder that has been causing discomfort, and many times that peace of mind helps.
Your doctor can prescribe medication or recommend different physical therapies and exercises to help with the pain and other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. Another thing you can do is avoid things which cause flare ups. While some, such as weather changes, hormonal changes or traveling, are unavoidable, there are steps you can take to eliminate other causes. Stress, over-exertion and lack of sleep are thought to contribute to fibro-flares. Make sure you’re sleeping enough, trying to eliminate as much stress from your life as possible and not overdoing it when trying to complete a physical task.
Dr. Richard Harris is an Internal Medicine physician who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Katy Clinic. His clinical interests include exercise physiology, nutrition, pharmacology and pharmacogenomics (the study of how genes affect drug response).