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Learn helpful signs of fibromyalgia and causes of this mystery disease.

Physicians are Discovering More about this Mysterious Disease

These days it seems like there is a pill for everything, and most major diseases are understood by health care professionals. However, approximately 3 to 6 million Americans have fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome that is difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat. About 80 to 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia are women.

Defining Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread muscle pain, fatigue, and multiple tender points. Fibromyalgia is referred to as a ‘syndrome’ because – unlike diseases that have clearly defined symptoms and causes – people who have fibromyalgia may experience several common and seemingly unrelated symptoms that occur together, but don’t relate to a single, identifiable cause. Obviously, this makes diagnosing fibromyalgia difficult.

Some of the symptoms experienced by people with fibromyalgia include sleep disturbances, morning stiffness, diffuse pain and a variety of other symptoms.

Searching for Causes

The cause or causes of fibromyalgia have not yet been discovered, although several theories are currently being researched. For example, fibromyalgia is also seen in people with rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), which are both autoimmune disorders, so there may be a link. There has also been some indications that fibromyalgia may be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful traumatic event. We do know that women are more susceptible.

Other avenues of study include research on pain and sleep. “People with fibromyalgia are very sensitive to pain and temperature changes, so the nervous system is one major area of research concentration. And, sleep is a big issue. People with fibromyalgia generally don’t sleep well, and they often show symptoms of chronic insomnia. It hasn't been determined that sleep deprivation is a symptom or contributing cause of fibromyalgia, but there's hope that further research will shed light on this issue.

Treating Fibromyalgia

Treating fibromyalgia can be difficult because is no ‘cure.’ However, with some lifestyle modifications and certain medications, the symptoms can be minimized and sometimes eliminated.

Below are some of the most effective lifestyle changes you can make if you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Exercise – It may seem ironic that people with a chronic pain syndrome such as fibromyalgia would be encouraged to exercise. However, research has repeatedly shown that regular exercise is one of the most helpful treatments for fibromyalgia. People who are in a lot of pain should start slowly with walking, water exercises or stretching exercises like yoga or Pilates.

Sleep – Although one of the major symptoms of fibromyalgia is difficulty sleeping, getting good sleep appears to help the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia. If you suffer from fibromyalgia, allow yourself enough time to sleep, eliminate sleep disrupters (pets on your bed, uncomfortable mattress, etc.), avoid TV before bed and get into a good bedtime routine.

Adapt – Your doctor may tell you that you’re over extended and this adversely affects your ability to cope. This generates stressors that make treatment more difficult. If you think it will help, look for a less stressful job. If you have a family, sit down and have a talk with them about how they can help you. Older children and your spouse should help with chores, if they don’t already, or hire household help if you can afford it.

Medications – “Currently, there are two FDA-approved drugs – Cymbalta and Lyrica – that have been useful for treating fibromyalgia. Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and antidepressants and other treatments, including trigger point injections and acupuncture, may also be helpful in treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia.”​​​​