Signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia (plus treatment options)

fibromyalgia can be confused with irritable bowel movement

fibromyalgia can be confused with irritable bowel movement

Photo credit: fotosearch

What you need to know:

  • fibromyalgia is a health condition that causes pain all over the body, sleep problems, fatigue, and emotional and mental distress.
  • The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown.


It starts with fatigue, sleep problems, and pain. The pain is widespread. Sometimes, this pain is all over the body and comes with stiffness and localised tenderness at specific points on your body. When you start to exhibit these symptoms, it is likely you have fibromyalgia. According to the Centre for Disease Control, this is a health condition that causes pain all over the body, sleep problems, fatigue, and emotional and mental distress. “People with fibromyalgia may be more sensitive to pain than people without fibromyalgia. This is called abnormal pain perception processing,” the CDC states.

According to the United Kingdom’s NHS guidelines on the management of fibromyalgia, the exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. “The disease s however believed to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and nerve) processes pain messages carried around the body,” the NHS states, adding that genes from parents are also a factor.

Symptoms

Although widespread pain is the most common symptom of fibromyalgia, there are other symptoms that patients with fibromyalgia will exhibit. These symptoms may include difficulties with rational thinking or thinking processes, and difficulties with memory and concentration. The CDC says a person with fibromyalgia might experience headaches that might include migraines and tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. “An individual may also suffer pain in the face or jaw, including disorders of the jaw known as temporomandibular joint syndrome, digestive problems, such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and even irritable bowel syndrome,” states the CDC. In some cases fibromyalgia has been known to be misdiagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune disorder in which antibodies destroy the communication between nerves and muscle, whose symptoms are characterised by muscle weakness and fatigue, facial muscle involvement which will cause a mask-like appearance or a smile that looks more like a snarl, difficulties in swallowing or inability in pronouncing words correctly, and a weak neck or limbs.

The risk factors

According to the CDC, there are certain risk factors for fibromyalgia.

Your age: This condition is more prevalent among people who are within middle age. The CDC states that from middle age, you will be more likely to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia as your age advances. However, the condition is not restricted to the middle age to old age bracket. Persons of all ages, including children, can still get it.

Lupus or rheumatoid arthritis: Your risk of developing fibromyalgia will be elevated if you have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is generally characterised by an overreaction in the immune system with inflammation of the affected joints. Dr. Eliud Mwaura, a rheumatologist, says when unmanaged, this disease can prove to be painful to an extent of making it impossible to carry out simple tasks, especially during cold seasons. Dr. Mwaura says that rheumatoid arthritis usually targets the cells in the immune system by causing the erosion of bones. “This disease inflicts the lining of the joint capsule known as the synovial membrane. This lining becomes inflamed and swollen. Where medical help is not sought, the cartilage and bone within the joint may end up getting destroyed,” he says. Lupus on the other hand is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many body systems — including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs.

PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder and other daily life stressful or shocking events such as car accidents have been highlighted as possible catalysts for fibromyalgia. This also includes repetitive injuries on specific joints such as from frequent knee bending.

Treatment

There is currently no known cure for this condition. However, there are ways to manage the condition. In most cases, treatment will involve a combination of medicines and therapy. According to the NHS, medicines such as antidepressants and painkillers help in managing pain and mental disorders that come with fibromyalgia.  “There are also talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counseling, lifestyle changes, such as exercise programmes and relaxation techniques that can help a patient manage their condition more efficiently,” states the NHS. Exercises are highlighted by the NHS as effective in helping patients with fibromyalgia reduce their pain sensations. These physical exercises should include aerobic exercise and muscle strengthening exercises.

The Centre for Disease Control recommends that your exercises should be moderately active for 150 minutes per week. “Walk, swim, or bike 30 minutes a day for five days a week. These 30 minutes can be broken into three separate ten-minute sessions during the day,” states the CDC. In the same vein, the CDC recommends the inclusion of stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, and massage into the treatment formula. “Cognitive behavioral therapy to treat underlying depression should also be considered when treating a patient with this condition,” the CDC recommends. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy meant to change the way people act or think.

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