Fibromyalgia: What is it, symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment
Fibromyalgia. If you don’t know what fibromyalgia is, you should know that those who suffer from it have to cope with hypersensitivity, which causes a general pain in muscles and bones. This pain happens especially in the neck, back, shoulders, arms, hips, and legs. It is a complicated illness, here you will find a complete guide on fibromyalgia and how CogniFit can help you treat the cognitive symptoms of fibromyalgia.
What is Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that has no known cause and is characterized by a chronic generalized pain in muscles, tendons, and joints. There is a widespread pain in muscles and bones, areas of tenderness and general fatigue. It affects a large number of people, all who need individualized treatment.
It is often misdiagnosed because of its general symptoms. One study claims that 2% of the US population (5 million people) suffer from fibromyalgia and that it affects women much more than men (7:1). It is also more common in adults than children. Years ago it was not accepted as a disease and some doctors and researchers don’t consider fibromyalgia a real condition to this day. This can increase your risk of depression, due to the frustration and struggle of not getting acceptance for painful symptoms.
Fibromyalgia Symptoms-Trigger Points
Fibromyalgia is associated with areas of tenderness, also called trigger points because even the slightest pressure or touch can cause pain. These points, however, are not used to diagnose but rather as a way to narrow the possible list of diseases. The pain in these trigger points is described as a consistent dull ache affecting many areas of your body. If this pain lasts for at least three months, doctors may consider this a symptom of fibromyalgia.
Common trigger points include:
- back of the head
- tops of shoulders
- upper chest
- outer elbows
The main fibromyalgia symptoms are:
- Muscular pain that may last for months. As we have mentioned, it affects different parts of the body and may be activated by painless stimuli.
- Excessive fatigue and tiredness when doing everyday tasks. This fatigue doesn’t usually go away with rest.
- Numbness and muscle cramps, as well as sensations of seizures and stiffness.
- Problems sleeping, like insomnia or intermittent sleep.
- Difficulty remembering and processing information. It may also cause problems when speaking.
- Gastrointestinal problems, muscular and skeletal disorders, and metabolic problems.
People with fibromyalgia may also experience:
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases says that it could be due to traumatic events, injury, illness, or disease.
Doctors and researchers still don’t have a certainty of what causes fibromyalgia, however, there are some factors relating to it:
Genetics: Fibromyalgia often runs in families. Researchers think certain genetic mutations may play a role in this condition, however, those genes haven’t yet been identified. If you have a family member with this condition, your risk for developing it is higher. Studies show that it might be potentially related to an array of genes in the serotoninergic, dopaminergic or catecholaminergic systems. These array of genes can also be associated with irritable bowel syndrome as well as depression which makes the diagnosis of fibromyalgia more complicated.
Trauma: This can play an important part in fibromyalgia since it can be linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. A systematic review found significant association between fibromyalgia and physical and sexual abuse in both childhood and adulthood
Stress: Stress can affect your body, especially after months and years. Hormones are said to contribute to fibromyalgia and stress is highly linked to hormones.
Infections: Other illnesses may trigger this disease or might even make symptoms worse.
Psychological factors: There is evidence that major depression might be associated with fibromyalgia, however, the relationship is still unclear. It has also been linked to bipolar disorder and hypomania. People with celiac disease might be also more prone to suffer from this disease even though further information is needed.
As we have mentioned before this disease is difficult to diagnose, however, if you have been experiencing ongoing pain, not identifiable with other conditions, for three months or longer, be sure to visit your doctor.
There isn’t a specific blood test that can detect this disease but it can help rule out others. Since it is difficult to diagnose the Multicenter Criteria Committee of the American College of Rheumatology established certain criteria based on the widespread pain index (WPI) and the symptom severity scale (SS) as well as:
- Symptoms have been present at a similar level for at least three months, and
- No other diagnosable disorder otherwise explains the pain.
Other doctors take a more multidimensional approach taking into account psychological variables such as depression, anxiety, stress, or trauma.
Fibromyalgia doesn’t have a cure because we still don’t know the exact cause, but its treatment is focused on its symptoms. Treatment usually has three different focuses.
–Medications to fight against the disorder, like analgesics or anti-inflammatory drugs. These may also be paired with drugs to moderate the pain, like antidepressants. The goal of this part of the treatment is to relieve spasms and pain and help the patient sleep better.
–Psychological therapy is also essential because the patient will learn how to face fibromyalgia. Common therapies are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy while others such as meditation and hypnosis may also help relieve pain.
–Balanced diet: To ensure mental and physical balance, it is important to eat a varied diet to provide the body with the proper amount of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fatty acids so it can work properly. Doctors and specialists recommend this diet to fight off fibromyalgia naturally.
By eating an organic diet, you avoid the chemical products that reduce the nutritive value of some foods by taking away from vitamins and minerals. For the best results, you should avoid fast food and foods that are high in sugars.
Aside from going easy on sugar and fast food, you should also try to incorporate animal proteins, both red and lean meat, into your weekly diet. But remember, like with everything else, you can have too much of a good thing, so be careful not to overdo animal products. Eat more fish than red meat, remember that oily fish has essential Omega-3 acids, which help keep you healthy. Salmon, tuna, trout, and mackerel have the most essential acids. Other foods are also rich in these acids, like beans, grains, nuts, and seafood.
Make sure to eat all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Spinach, lettuce, and asparagus are recommended because they have lots of magnesium, and onion, garlic, cabbage, cucumber, oranges, and apples are recommended for their selenium.
Drink at least 8 glasses of water (or other liquids) a day, even if you’re not thirsty. It’s better to drink more during the day and eat less while you eat so you don’t fill up and get too full. Fibromyalgia medicine also causes dry mouth, which is another reason to drink water periodically. Try to avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol because they can cause high or low levels of energy. Finally, reduce your salt consumption and processed foods because they contain a lot of sodium.
–Exercise: Exercise and sleep may reduce pain and fatigue in some people with fibromyalgia. There is strong evidence that cardiovascular exercise such as running, may be effective for some people. This doesn’t mean that strength training may not be beneficial, however, it should be progressive.
We hope you found this fibromyalgia article useful and feel free to leave a comment below.
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism. She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles. As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.