Many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia are seen in other disorders
such as clinical depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, low thyroid
function, etc. The most distinctive symptom of fibromyalgia is the
presence of tender points, which are specific spots on the body
that are painful when pressure is applied.
What are the Symptoms:
Widespread musculoskeletal pain (that has been present for at
least three months) and fatigue are the main symptoms. There are
18 specific tender points associated with fibromyalgia (areas of
the body that are painful when pressed). There must be pain in at
least 11 out of 18 of these points to be diagnosed with this disease.
(Some doctors believe these guidelines are too rigid – what
if the person has only 9 or 10 tender points but many other symptoms)
A person with fibromyalgia is usually not aware of these tender
points until a physician presses on them.
Sleep disorders are common (affecting 90% of patients). Even if
a sufferer gets enough hours of sleep, the time spent in deep
– the restorative stage – is often inadequate. Many
fibromyalgia sufferers also suffer from depression and/or anxiety.
It is not known if this is due to the stress of chronic pain and
fatigue, or if there is an actual link between these disorders.
There may be headaches, and impaired memory, irritable bowel,
along with many other symptoms.
The symptoms and their intensity vary from person to
person. Even in the same person, symptoms may fluctuate.
The pain may range from aching to burning or gnawing pain. The
intensity and location of the pain may from vary day-to-day. The
neck, shoulders, lower back, and upper chest are commonly affected.
Pain and stiffness are often the worst in the morning. Certain activities,
overexertion, stress, damp weather, etc. may trigger increases in
pain. However, the pain often fluctuates for no apparent reason.
While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there are many ways to
relieve the symptoms.
When one is in pain or under any stress, muscles contract, which
causes more pain. The muscles in the back and neck are especially
sensitive to stress. Stress hormones that are released when one
is under stress increase the perception of pain and may trigger
depression, which is common with fibromyalgia. There are many ways
to release stress. See Stress
and Back Pain for more information.
Exercise helps reduce stress, increase circulation, relieve
pain, and improve sleep.
Stretching exercises loosen tight muscles. Exercising
in warm water makes exercises easier to perform, as the warm
water relaxes tightened muscles and increases blood flow.
Aerobics are very effective in reducing stress
and pain. During aerobic activity, your brain releases chemicals
called endorphins –natural painkillers. Low impact exercises
such as walking and swimming are ideal. Doing too much too soon
can cause post exercise pain in anyone, but overexertion can also
cause symptoms of fibromyalgia to flare up.
Low doses of antidepressants are often prescribed. Antidepressants
raise levels of certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which
tend to be low in people with fibromyalgia. Serotonin is strongly
linked to mood, sleep, and pain sensitivity. Analgesics such as
Tylenol, or NSAIDs such as aspirin or ibuprofen typically do not
bring much relief to fibromyalgia sufferers.
Relieve pain and stress and loosen tight muscles with
Some people find acupuncture
is effective in relieving the pain of fibromyalgia.
Though a chronic condition with fluctuating symptoms, fibromyalgia
does not tend to worsen over time. (Except in the beginning, when
the symptoms may develop gradually) Many people actually improve
over time as they learn ways to manage their symptoms.
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