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Fibromyalgia - 10 Things You Should Know

From Early Symptoms to Disease Management

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Updated February 24, 2013

Fibromyalgia is a chronic arthritis-related syndrome. A syndrome is a collection of symptoms. If you have been diagnosed or have signs and symptoms pointing to fibromyalgia, there are 10 basic facts you should know about fibromyalgia.

1 - Fibromyalgia is primarily characterized by widespread muscle pain and tenderness.

Fibromyalgia does not cause inflammation or damage to the joints, muscles, or other tissues. Therefore, it is not a disease of the joints but is arthritis-related. In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology established criteria to diagnose fibromyalgia:

  • A history of widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body (e.g. above the waist on both sides; below the waist on both sides of the body) for three months or more.
  • Pain at 11 of 18 tender point sites

2 - Fibromyalgia can occur as a primary or secondary condition.

Fibromyalgia can occur as a primary syndrome characterized by muscular pain or as a secondary syndrome to other rheumatic diseases. It is possible to have fibromyalgia syndrome as well as another rheumatic disease.

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, or ankylosing spondylitis are at increased risk of also developing fibromyalgia syndrome. Those patients may wonder if they have symptoms which are common to two conditions (i.e. overlapping symptoms) or if they actually have two distinct conditions.

3 - Fibromyalgia is often misunderstood and symptoms are often unrecognized, causing the syndrome to remain undiagnosed for months or years.

Fibromyalgia symptoms are often confused with symptoms typically linked to another condition. Fibromyalgia symptoms can mimic or overlap symptoms associated with other rheumatic diseases. According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, it takes about five years on average to get an accurate diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

4 - Ninety percent of fibromyalgia patients suffer with severe fatigue or a sleep disorder.

Fatigue and sleep problems are a major characteristic associated with fibromyalgia. Therefore, problems which develop because of poor sleep, also referred to as non-restorative sleep, are problematic as well (i.e. cognitive problems, memory lapses, lack of energy).

5 - Fibromyalgia is associated with additional symptoms which seem distinct themselves but are actually included in fibromyalgia syndrome.

Other than muscular pain, fatigue, and tenderness, fibromyalgia patients also may experience:

  • headaches
  • irritable bladder or bowel
  • memory problems
  • temporomandibular joint disorder
  • pelvic pain
  • noise sensitivity
  • temperature sensitivity
  • restless leg syndrome
  • depression
  • anxiety

6 - There are psychological as well as physical aspects associated with fibromyalgia.

In a study of 307 patients evaluated over an 11-year period (reported at an American College of Rheumatology meeting by Yunus and colleagues), one-third of patients had severe physical as well as severe psychological issues. One-third had mild psychological and moderate physical issues. Another third had moderate pyschological symptoms with mild physical symptoms.

7 - Since there is so much variability in fibromyalgia, the syndrome does not manifest itself identically in all patients.

Since not all fibromyalgia patients experience the same symptoms, there may be sub-types of fibromyalgia which may be discovered later and would influence treatment choices. Until the cause of fibromyalgia is determined, the variability of symptoms will remain part of the puzzle.

8 - Diagnosis of fibromyalgia focuses on tender points but there is no definitive diagnostic test for fibromyalgia such as a blood test or X-ray.

Diagnosis of fibromyalgia is solely based on symptoms which are presented and on a physical examination. If diagnostic tests are ordered, it is to rule out other conditions or find out more about other symptoms.

9 - Medication and non-medication treatments are used to manage fibromyalgia.

Medications are used to treat pain, improve sleep, and manage depression and anxiety. Your physician will determine what to prescribe based on symptoms presented. Alternative treatments which focus on pain relief and stress relief also benefit many fibromyalgia patients.

10 - Fibromyalgia affects more women than men. The prevalence of fibromyalgia is between 2 and 4 percent of the population.

Though the statistics reveal the prevalence of fibromyalgia, statistics do not reveal how many people live well with fibromyalgia and have successfully managed the syndrome to the degree of maintaining good quality of life. It's important to get a proper diagnosis and to follow a treatment regiment which affords you a good quality of life despite your diagnosis.

Sources:

Fibromyalgia. American College of Rheumatology.
http://www.rheumatology.org/public/factsheets/fibromya_new.asp?aud=pat

Fibromyalgia Q & A. National Institutes of Health (NIAMS).
http://www.niams.nih.gov/hi/topics/fibromyalgia/fibrofs.htm

Fibromyalgia Seems o Divide Into Three Distinct Groups. ArthritisCentral. Joel Rutstein, M.D., 7/7/2006.

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