One of the more difficult types of chronic pain to deal with is the kind of pain that isn’t “visible” to those around you. This is the case with Fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by fatigue, widespread pain, and increased sensitivity to pressure present in at least 11 of 18 “tender points” (American College of Rheumatology, criteria for diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, 2013). Patients who suffer from the condition are usually undiagnosed for five or more years, which means the patient and their families may be both perplexed and saddened by recurring symptoms. The disorder affects women more than men, although children and males can also be diagnosed with the condition. Although it is suspected to be genetic in nature, this has not yet been proved.
The condition is said to affect approximately 5-6 million Americans, ages 18 or older. Approximately 85% of those diagnosed are women (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Skin Diseases (NIAMS), @ NIH.gov. Fibromyalgia is also characterized by trouble sleeping, headaches, and morning stiffness. Periods of exacerbations (flares) can often be alleviated by rest, medication, and changes in workload and stress. One of the more intricate aspects of the disorder is to find a medical professional that understands effective means of keeping you feeling fit and functional. It can be very difficult for a patient with chronic, widespread pain to move and exercise when they are in distress.
“Fibro fog” may occur, which is demonstrated by problems with memory and focus. This can be the result of suboptimal sleep, OR the presence of ongoing pain. Fibromyalgia may exist on its own, or in conjunction with other painful conditions, such as SLE (Lupus), rheumatoid arthritis, or IBD (Inflammatory bowel disorder).
How do you find help? Be persistent in finding a provider that believes your symptoms of pain, and also provides you with a treatment plan. Most rheumatologists are familiar with diagnosing and treating Fibromyalgia. Treatment is multifactorial, and should include an array of options: medications*, therapy, an assessment of sleep, and behavioral components to reduce stress and provide support during “flares” (periods of increased pain and fatigue). If your healthcare provider does not believe your report of pain, keep searching.
For further information, either contact NIAMS @ www.niams.nih.gov, or ask your primary care physician or local hospital for a physician referral.
Treatment with various types of medications is usually best. Although strong pain medication (narcotics) have their use, long-term treatment with this category of medication has become controversial (Medscape, 2013).