Although fibromyalgia has long existed, it has only recently been accepted as a chronic, debilitating condition.
The NHS and the Department of Work and Pensions now list fibromyalgia as ‘real’, which is a step in the right direction.
So what is fibromyalgia?
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but it is thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) processes pain messages carried around the body.
It may connected to other conditions, including various arthritis’s and may be genetic but even this is unsure. We do know it can be triggered after a traumatic or stressful event; anything from a virus to a divorce. Anyone can develop fibromyalgia at any age, but it predominantly affects women between the ages of 30 and 50. Some studies believe up to 1 in 20 people may be affected.
Unfortunately there is no specific test for fibromyalgia, so diagnosis is made purely on presentation and history. This makes life difficult as the symptoms of fibromyalgia vary according to the person, both in specifics and intensity. Symptoms may be aggravated by many things, from stress to the weather.
If you have fibromyalgia, one of the main symptoms is likely to be widespread pain. This may be felt throughout your body, but could be worse in particular areas, such as your back or neck. The pain is likely to be continuous, although it may be better or more severe at different times.
The pain could feel like:
- an ache
- a burning sensation
- a sharp, stabbing pain
Fibromyalgia can make you extremely sensitive to pain all over your body, and you may find that even the slightest touch is painful.
If you hurt yourself – such as stubbing your toe – the pain may continue for much longer than it normally would.
You may hear the condition described in the following medical terms:
- hyperalgesia – when you’re extremely sensitive to pain
- allodynia – when you feel pain from something that shouldn’t be painful at all, such as a very light touch
You may be sensitive to things such as smoke, certain foods and bright lights. Being exposed can cause your other fibromyalgia symptoms to flare up.
Cognitive problems (‘fibro-fog’)
Cognitive problems are issues related to mental processes, such as thinking and learning. If you have fibromyalgia, you may have:
- trouble remembering and learning new things
- problems with attention and concentration
- slowed or confused speech
Other symptoms that people with fibromyalgia sometimes experience include:
- dizziness and clumsiness
- poor sleep quality
- feeling too hot or too cold – this is because you’re not able to regulate your body temperature properly
- restless leg syndrome (an overwhelming urge to move your legs)
- tingling, numbness, prickling or burning sensations in your hands and feet
- in women, unusually painful periods
- IBS developments
If you think you may be depressed, it’s important to get help from your GP or your fibromyalgia healthcare professional, if you’ve been seeing one.
So what can be done to help?
First and foremost you need a good diagnosis from your heathcare practitioner to make sure they think you have fibromyalgia and not other conditions that may need treating differently, or more importantly investigating differently to be safe.
Once this is done and other conditions have been ruled out, and fibromyalgia has been diagnosed, you may need to try a variety of treatments to find a combination that suits you.
Fibromyalgia has numerous symptoms, meaning that no single treatment will work for all of them. Treatments that work for some people won’t necessarily work for others.
These treatments include medication, lifestyle changes (from diet to identifying and avoiding trigger factors), exercises, physical treatment, relaxation techniques, counselling and CBT.
Article by Andrew Doody – Osteopath for Fleet Street Clinic
There are many helpful bodies out there who can help and support if you are concerned you may suffer from fibromyalgia including UK Fibromyalgia, Fibromyalgia Action UK and the Fibromyalgia Association.