Living With Fibromyalgia
Managing The Symptoms To Improve Quality Of Life
By Lynn Castille
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome defined by widespread pain, often accompanied by fatigue, memory and mood issues as well as insomnia. A syndrome differs from a disease, as it’s a collection of symptoms, medical problems and signs not related to an identifiable cause which occur together.
Research shows women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men. Living with this chronic condition can come with limitations stemming from the pain and chronic fatigue.
The Mayo Clinic describes fibromyalgia as a constant dull ache, usually arising from the muscles. An additional fibromyalgia identifier is pain when firm pressure is applied to the tender points of the body. These tender points are listed as:
•Sides and upper hips.
•The back of the head.
•The top of the shoulders and between the shoulder blades.
•Front sides of the neck.
For pain to be considered widespread, it must be identified on both sides of the body and above and below the waist. Other symptoms include muscle spasms or tightness, morning stiffness, restless legs syndrome, numbness or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs or feet. Fibromyalgia sufferers may also experience anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, depression and headaches. Some suffer from fibromyalgia in conjunction with other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and hypertension, to name a few.
Age can also play a factor, with symptoms usually occurring between the ages of 20 to 60, and the chances increasing between ages 60 to 79.
However, children are not excluded from a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. A condition called juvenile primary fibromyalgia is on the increase.
One theory is that fibromyalgia sufferers have a lower threshold to pain due to increased sensitivity in the brain to pain signals. WebMD reports widespread pain is the characteristic defining 97 percent of fibromyalgia patients.
Fibromyalgia can interfere with your ability to function in daily tasks and at work due to lack of sleep and pain. For some, the pain associated with fibromyalgia comes and goes. For others it’s a daily chronic pain.
The Mayo Clinic reports in 1990 the American College of Rheumatology established two criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia. The first being widespread pain lasting at least three months, and secondly at least 11 positive tender points out of 18. Currently there are no diagnostic laboratory tests for fibromyalgia. Today the diagnosis guidelines are less stringent, with the new diagnosis criteria used in general practice being widespread pain lasting at least three months with no underlying condition causing the pain. Blood tests may be performed to rule out other conditions.
More than five million people in the U.S. are affected by fibromyalgia and most of them are women, with only 10 percent of those diagnosed being men. WebMD states it’s uncertain why so few men suffer from fibromyalgia. Because the numbers are so few and men have fewer symptoms than women, it is tougher for men to get the correct diagnosis. Dr. Yunus, professor of medicine at the University of Illinois, states on WebMD that fibromyalgia is characterized by an imbalance in the brain. “It is a neurochemical disease,” says Yunus. “People with fibromyalgia show a higher than average amount of substance P, a neurotransmitter that signals pain, and a lower than average amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that inhibits pain.”
Genetics and hormones can play a role in fibromyalgia. Physical trauma, surgery, psychological stress and infection can all trigger the onset of fibromyalgia as well.
Michael J. Pellegrino, MD, an expert at Ohio Pain and Rehab Specialists, and also a fibromyalgia sufferer, estimates up to 20 percent of men go undiagnosed because they don’t go to the doctor.
He states on WebMD that depression is not uncommon with men who delay getting a proper diagnosis. The most important thing men can do is get diagnosed so treatment can begin.
Because lack of sleep can affect your overall sense of wellbeing, getting enough sleep is just one part of fibromyalgia treatment. To get the proper rest, your sleep habits may have to change. Also making your bedroom more sleep friendly by limiting light and other distractions is important. Getting enough sleep and practicing regular sleep habits are important because fatigue is one of fibromyalgia’s main symptoms.
A combination of medications and lifestyle changes can make it easer to live with fibromyalgia. Medications which reduce pain and improve sleep are common treatment approaches.
Treatment targets controlling fibromyalgia symptoms because there is no cure for the condition. Regular exercise such as walking, biking and swimming may be helpful. Stretching and relaxation exercises may also help. For others, trying alternative treatment therapies such as acupuncture or massage therapy may help alleviate some of their symptoms. Practicing tai chi or yoga to reduce stress combined with medication has also been found helpful. Fibromyalgia treatment is customized depending on each individual’s symptoms.
Living With Fibromyalgia
Living with chronic pain can make it hard just to cope day to day. Getting the correct diagnosis is the first step to living with fibromyalgia. Because those diagnosed with fibromyalgia tire more quickly and often suffer from anxiety and depression, it’s important to recognize these symptoms and seek appropriate treatments. Your healthcare provider can provide the tools you need to help cope with the many symptoms associated with this condition. WebMD offers several tips for coping with fibromyalgia:
•Minimize stress in your life—some experts believe reducing stress reduces depression and anxiety and sleep becomes more restful. And your quality of life improves.
•Remove yourself emotionally from stressful situations—learn to view life’s problems as inconvenient, not a crisis, and something you can handle.
•Make job site modifications—ask your employer for a flexible schedule or more time if needed to get tasks done, thus reducing anxiety levels.
•Learn to say no—don’t go into overload trying to do everything for everybody.
•Keep a daily journal—documenting daily events makes it easier to recognize what triggers the beginning of fibromyalgia symptoms.
•Work to improve communication skills—let family, friends and co-workers know when you are in pain and experiencing fatigue.
•Soak in a warm bath—there are many benefits from a warm bath, shower, sauna or hot tub. The warm moist heat helps relax muscles and raise levels of endorphins which can help sleep be more restful.
•Exercise regularly—the Arthritis Foundation reports regular exercise eases fibromyalgia symptoms and has analgesic and antidepressant effects.
•Eliminate or reduce caffeine intake—caffeine can induce a stress response and can increase anxiety and insomnia.
•Use mind/body tools for relaxation—stepping back from problems and using mind/body tools such as meditation, deep abdominal breathing and biofeedback can produce brain waves associated with happiness.
•Evaluate your sleeping environment—make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep, by eliminating sleep distractions such as noise and light.
•Make time for “you” each day—work for a healthy balance each day of what you want to do and what you have to do.
•Consider joining a fibromyalgia support group—these groups focus on educational and supportive tools for patients and families, and is a place to get comfort and encouragement from others.
Enjoying A Good Quality Of Life
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but doctors suspect it’s a variety of factors which can include infections, genetics, gender, rheumatic disease and/ or physical trauma. Many have lived for years with pain and have gone undiagnosed, but today more doctors are aware of the condition.
Taking active control of your condition and trying one or more treatment options until you find one that works best for you can improve your quality of life. Recognize you will have good days and bad days and use your coping mechanisms to make a bad day better. Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there are treatment combinations that can help making it easier to live day to day. Fibromyalgia is not fatal nor is it a progressive disease, and for some the condition can improve over time. Anything you can do to improve your quality of life is a win-win situation.