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What is Fibromyalgia?

written by: Willie Scott • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 11/15/2010

Many people are living with fibromyalgia without knowing what is wrong with them. So, what is fibromyalgia? It is a chronic disease likened to rheumatoid arthritis. It can cause sleepless nights, dizzy spells, and problems with walking and balance, along with painful joints and muscles.

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    Introduction to What is Fibromyalgia?

    Fibromyalgia affects the body’s muscles, tissues and joints making them tender, stiff, and painful along with other fibromyalgia symptoms such as sleeplessness. A lot of people have fibromyalgia without knowing what it is. They attribute the pain to getting old and a bit arthritic when, in reality, they are suffering from early symptoms of fibromyalgia. There are tests that can diagnose fibromyalgia pain; it can be treated with pain medicine along with mild exercises. Here we explore its symptoms, diagnosis, and fibromyalgia treatment. We will also discuss arthritis, joint, and rheumatic conditions.

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    What is Fibromyalgia?

    The word fibromyalgia was coined by doctors some time ago and is a combination of Latin and Greek terms:

    • Latin for fibrous tissue is fibro
    • Greek for muscle is myo
    • Greek for pain is algia

    From the above, it can be seen that fibromyalgia affects the fibrous tissue and muscles and generates pain.

    Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that affects women (80 percent) more than men and children, with women between the ages of 35 to 55 being the most vulnerable. There is no evident inflammation but a lot of tender, aching tissue accompanied by stiff, painful joints that can be aggravated by noise, weather changes, and stress. It can also exhibit symptoms and signs similar to rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, and tendinitis, which are localized; whereas, fibromyalgia is widespread throughout the body.

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    The Top Ten Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

    1. Joint and muscles pain – pain and stiffness are chief among the symptoms.

    2. Apprehension and depression – a feeling of apprehension and nervousness coupled with dejection and despair.

    3. Difficulty sleeping – sometimes going to sleep is easy, but individuals wake up after only a few minutes. They are then unable to get back to sleep, often only having a few hours of good sleep. This gives rise to fatigue on getting up from bed.

    4. Lack of concentration and forgetfulness – sometimes referred to as “fibro-fog"; it can make one totally unaware of their surroundings or conversations. Individuals may not remember recent events.

    5. Dryness in mouth, nose, and eyes – this is very common; the patient normally has a raging thirst coupled with dry eyes.

    6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS is very common, with either diarrhea or constipation being the norm.

    7. Headaches and abdominal Pain - sometimes chronic.

    8. Balance problems when walking – use of a stick is recommended.

    9. Tingling and numbness in fingers and feet – brought on by hypersensitivity to weather.

    10. Very sensitive to cold and heat – as above, this is caused by changes in temperature.

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    Fibromyalgia Diagnosis

    Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose as it does not show up in x-rays, scans, or blood tests because there is no inflammation involved.

    The diagnosis is made by a physical examination, and there are 18 fibromyalgia trigger points, or tender points, located at various places on the body, which when pressed lightly will experience pain. To be medically diagnosed with fibromyalgia, 11 of the 18 trigger points must be painful when pressed, and the patient must have experienced prevalent widespread pain for at least three months.

    The fibromyalgia trigger points are identified on the following drawing from Wikipedia Commons:

    18 Pressure Points to Diagnose Fibromyalgia from Wikipedia Commons 

    Please read on to find out the treatment recommended for Fibromyalgia..

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    The physical therapy treatment is a vital part of the fibromyalgia treatment. This should be carried out initially by a physiotherapist who has experience in treating the disease, as gentle exercises are required, and will definitely ease the stiffness and pain in the joints and muscles. Once the patient has sufficient experience with the exercises, the exercises can be carried out at home. Hydrotherapy is an excellent form of physical therapy treatment for fibromyalgia, and again should be carried out under the supervision of a physiotherapist, who will ensure the patient does not do too much exercise in the pool. Physical therapy will also tire the patient, and maybe help them to sleep better at night.
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    Fibromyalgia Treatment

    1. Medication

    • Cymbalta (Duloxetine)

    This is an anti-depressant, which has shown success in treating fibromyalgia. The drug belongs to a group of medicines known as Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). Doctors believe the pain that fibromyalgia sufferers experience is due to changes in their nervous system, which causes signals from the brain to reduce this. Cymbalta counteracts these signals, reducing the pain and making the patient feel better overall, while lifting the depression.

    Lyrica a nerve receptor, which targets the nerve signals in the brain - like Cymbalta - except Lyrica reduces pain and not depression. It does help sleeplessness, and once the patient is sleeping normally with reduced pain this should help depression.

    Savella is another SNRI, and this tablet targets the nervous system. Many fibromyalgia sufferers have low pain thresholds due to changes in the nervous system. This could be caused by incorrect levels of neurotransmitters, which are brain chemicals. Savella allows more of these to travel from neuron to neuron promoting reduction in pain and fatigue, while aiding memory.

    Note: Most medications produce side effects. For more information, read "Medications Used to Treat Fibromyalgia."

    2. Exercising

    The physiotherapist will take the patient with fibromyalgia through simple stretching exercises, which will loosen tight muscles and joints.

    They will also demonstrate the correct posture to help to remove undue strain on the weight bearing joints, while reducing neck and back pain.

    Massage will also relieve pain and help circulation, for further information please click onto Brighthub link

    3. Hydrotherapy

    A hydrotherapy pool can be of great help with fibromyalgia, since being able to carry out exercises in the pool is much easier than in the gym or at home. The hot water soothes the joint and muscle pains.

    The moist heat induced by the hot water dilates blood vessels encouraging better blood circulation and increasing the flow of oxygen, while eliminating toxins from the body.

    Care must be taken not to overdo the exercises as the buoyancy of the hot water takes the weight off the joints, allowing much easier movement so more exercises can be done. Too much exercise in the pool can lead to painful joints later.

    For further information on hydrotherapy, please read "Treating Fibromyalgia with Massage Therapy."

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    Support for People with Fibromyalgia.

    Fibromyalgia sufferers should consult their local paper to find out if there is a fibromyalgia support group nearby. Many people find that talking with others that suffer from fibromyalgia is a great way of learning more about it, and the message given out - “do not suffer alone"- is very reassuring. There are also many websites to be found online. These also offer advice and support; some of these websites are listed in the next section.

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    Reference Websites

    Symptoms Information

    Diagnosis Information

    • Trigger Points: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/60/Puntos-sensibles-fibromialg.

    Medication Information

    • Cymbalta: http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/cymbalta-for-fibromyalgia-treatment
    • Lyrica: http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/lyrica-for-fibromyalgia-treatment
    • Savella: http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/savella-for-fibromyalgia-treatment

    Therapy Information

    • Physiotherapy and Hydrotherapy: http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/fibromyalgia-and-physical-therapy