When Will We Crack the Code on Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition most commonly characterized by widespread pain or stiffness all over the body. While the severity of the pain may vary over time or from person to person, it can be frightening for patients to begin experiencing all-over pain from an unknown source.
Mystery and Misdiagnosis
More concerning still: we don't know the root cause of fibromyalgia. Working theories suggest that the condition could stem from psychological trauma, the central nervous system's overreactive processing of pain, an infection or virus, or some type of sleep disturbance.
But the fact is, the medical community hasn't settled on the most plausible of explanations. In the meantime, people with fibromyalgia are often misdiagnosed with depression, Lyme disease, or general fatigue.
Fibromyalgia Symptoms and Risk Factors
Symptoms and their severity may vary, but doctors have identified the most common ones, including:
General pain and stiffness throughout the body, which could feel like it's radiating from the joints
Depression, anxiety, or unabated fatigue
Trouble with memory or concentration
Headaches or migraines
Tingling or numbness throughout hands and feet
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or other digestive issues
Doctors recommend that people who experience some or all of these symptoms should track the occurrences in a journal over roughly three months to try and identify patterns or other factors at play. The physician will then use a combination of symptom tracking, medical history, blood work, and X-rays to eliminate other possible conditions and potentially arrive at a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
The following risk factors have been associated with the prevalence of fibromyalgia in adults.
Fibromyalgia symptoms and diagnosis are more common among middle-aged and older adults
People with lupus or some form of arthritis are more likely to also have fibromyalgia
Women are twice as susceptible to fibromyalgia as men
People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or who have experienced a traumatic event or childhood are more likely to have fibromyalgia
Experiencing a physical injury or placing repetitive stress on the joints over time
Viral infection or illness
Family history of fibromyalgia
Living with Fibromyalgia
The good news is that while the root cause may be elusive, fibromyalgia treatment and pain management options have evolved. A treatment program may begin with physical therapy and a recommended exercise and physical activity regimen. Stress management techniques and mindfulness education are common aspects of a treatment program.
Suppose the condition becomes more severe or frontline treatment methods are deemed ineffective. In that case, a treatment program may progress to include a combination of dietary modifications, sleep aids, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and potentially alternative treatments. While fibromyalgia may significantly change a patient's quality of life, the key is tracking symptoms, communicating with physicians and other support team professionals, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.