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What is Fibromyalgia?
The syndrome of fibromyalgia is often characterized by chronic pain, fatigue, sleep problems and depression. Women of all ages, but mostly those between the ages of 20 to 60 years, are more susceptible to this condition, which now affects more than 12 million Americans. It belongs to a group of conditions called central sensitivity syndromes where many signs and symptoms overlap; therefore, it is often difficult to diagnose.
The cause is not clear but many factors related to physical injury, family history, behavioral and psychological characteristics, viral infection and many more have been considered. Chronic pain, which is described as unbearable is the most common complaint; this pain may affect muscles and joints and occurs all over. Affected women usually feel tired, cannot sleep well and may be depressed.
Physical examination may not reveal significant findings except for tender points and signs of physical deconditioning. Laboratory exams are non-specific and may be done to exclude other diseases like thyroid problems, arthritis and autoimmune disease.
Prescription drugs like antidepressants, narcotics, muscle relaxants and sedatives are often used to treat the symptoms. Behavioral and physical therapy may also be advised to aid in therapy. Aside from these, patients often turn to over-the-counter (OTC) medications and remedies to obtain relief without having to seek repeated consultations, which may sometimes be frustrating.
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Over-the-Counter Treatment Options
Fibromyalgia OTC treatments often include analgesics such as acetaminophen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Examples of these are:
- Tylenol and Panadol, which are acetaminophens
- Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin)
- Naproxen sodium (Aleve)
- Ketoprofen (Orudis KT)
These oral medications reduce pain and inflammation but are less powerful than prescription drugs like narcotics. They work by blocking the production of prostaglandins in the body; these substances cause pain and inflammation as a reaction to injury, infection and stress. Although less potent, they are useful adjuncts to therapy and can be used together with most medications to relieve muscle and joint pains.
Common side effects include gastric irritation, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, rash, headaches and dizziness. They may also interact with other medications such as lithium, methotrexate, warfarin, antihypertensive drugs and diuretics. Caution must be observed, especially if they are to be taken chronically for fibromyalgia symptoms.
Natural remedies which are available as OTC treatments for fibromyalgia include herbal supplements and other homeopathic remedies. Some examples are:
- For anti-inflammatory and pain relief – turmeric, devil’s claw root, willow bark, licorice root, dandelion, pine-bark, cayenne
- For symptoms of fatigue - Siberian ginseng, valerian root
- For antioxidant and detoxifier effects to boost the immune system - garlic, cayenne, echinacea, goldenseal, astralagus, myrrh, grape seed extract, and chaparral
- To relieve anxiety, depression and nervousness – gorse, aspen and impatiens, St. John’s Wort
In using herbs and homeopathic remedies, one must be careful not to overdose or take these substances indiscriminately. Although they are considered natural and safe, they can also have potent effects and may have side effects.
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WebMD, “What Is Fibromyalgia?” http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/what-is-fibromyalgia
eMedicine, “Fibromyalgia: Treatment & Medication” http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/329838-treatment
Fibromyalgia Support, “Natural Remedies for Fibromyalgia” http://www.fibromyalgia-support.org/fibromyalgia-treatments/fibromyalgia-natural-remedies.html