CHICAGO September 22, 2012 - Fibromyalgia is a medical condition most of us have heard of, and though we likely realize it involves chronic pain, know little more about it. You may be surprised to learn, for example, fibromyalgia is not a clinical disease. It is a syndrome, a set of symptoms not related to a single cause but experienced together.
About 80% of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women, many of them between ages 35 and 55, but symptoms may start for either gender from childhood through senior adulthood.
Around half of those with fibromyalgia struggle with, or cannot perform, routine activities of daily living. Of those diagnosed, about a third either change jobs to accommodate their symptoms, or can no longer work.
The syndrome sometimes occurs in tandem with systemic lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Although fibromyalgia does not cause joint inflammation or tissue damage, as does arthritis, it’s considered a rheumatic condition, or condition of the joints, because of the chronic pain and stiffness.
People can have fibromyalgia and not be aware of it. Having persistent muscle pain and areas of tenderness on the body, called tender points, are telltale signs of the syndrome. Other symptoms, however, may seem to be unrelated problems that a person approaching or passing middle age can expect. Those symptoms are:
Depression and anxiety
Restless sleep, and waking up tired
Bowel function problems
Memory problems, and mental fog
Those with fibromyalgia report it is like having a never-ending case of the flu. Pain intensity can fluctuate but is ever present. Many with this diagnosis will require hospitalization about every three years.
The American College of Rheumatology describes fibromyalgia as living with the volume cranked-up in pain processing parts of the brain. So, even with no evident pain source, a person can experience mild to intense discomfort.
Because fibromyalgia is a conglomeration of symptoms, treatment is by necessity many pronged. Exercise, traditional and alternative medicines provide treatment options. A doctor may prescribe medications such as painkillers, muscle relaxers, antidepressants, and may suggest physical therapy.
Alternative medicines include biofeedback, massage, acupuncture, meditation, controlled breathing exercises, and herbal remedies. None of the treatments are curative but help with the reduction and management of symptoms.
Regular exercise is a critical treatment component. Swimming, walking, Tai chi, and yoga are excellent choices. For example, research has shown yoga is very effective in reducing fibromyalgia symptoms including pain, stiffness, fatigue, depression, and restless sleep.
Changes in fibromyalgia symptoms, resulting from yoga practice, were measured in a study at the Oregon Health & Science University. The outcomes were significant enough to improve the study subjects’ daily functioning capabilities. Fatigue was diminished by 30%, pain by an average of 24%, and 42% of the subjects reported a reduction of depressive symptoms; substantial relief while researchers hunt for a cure.
Annual health care costs for fibromyalgia patients are an estimated $20 billion annually. Americans affected by this mysterious mix of symptoms number 11 million to 15 million souls. They are of diverse backgrounds, and the cost for them is not only in dollars, but quality of life.
Many celebrities live with fibromyalgia. Learn who they are, how they cope, and more about symptoms and treatment at Healthline.com.
American College of Rheumatology, http://www.rheumatology.org/
OHSU School of Medicine, http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/about/news_events/news/2010/2010-10-14-ohsu-research-sugge.cfm?WT_rank=2
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