WHAT IS FIBROMYALGIA?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition of widespread pain and profound fatigue. The pain tends to be felt as diffuse aching or burning, often described as head to toe. It may be worse at some times than at others. It may also change location, usually becoming more severe in parts of the body that are used most.
The fatigue ranges from feeling tired, to the exhaustion of a flu-like illness. It may come and go and people can suddenly feel drained of all energy – as if someone just “pulled the plug”.
Fibromyalgia is a common illness. In fact, it is more common than rheumatoid arthritis and can even be more painful. Prevalence of Fibromyalgia: A Survey in Five European Countries (see www.fmauk.org/prevalence for details) put the prevalence of FM at between 2.9 and 4.7%. People with mild to moderate cases of fibromyalgia are usually able to live a normal life, given the appropriate treatment.
Information booklet from Arthritis UK
If symptoms are severe, however, people may not be able to hold down a paying job or enjoy much of a social life. The name fibromyalgia is made up from “fibro” for fibrous tissues such as tendons and ligaments; “my” indicating muscles; and “algia” meaning pain.
Besides pain and fatigue fibromyalgia symptoms often include:
unrefreshing sleep – waking up tired and stiff
headaches – ranging from ordinary types to migraine
irritable bowel – alternating diarrhoea and constipation, sometimes accompanied by gas in the abdomen or nausea
cognitive disturbances including lack of concentration, temporary memory impairment and word mix up
clumsiness and dizziness
sensitivity to changes in the weather and to noise, bright lights, smoke and other environmental factors
Fibromyalgia often develops after some sort of trauma that seems to act as a trigger, such as a fall or car accident, a viral infection, childbirth, an operation or an emotional event. Sometimes the condition begins without any obvious trigger. The actual cause of fibromyalgia has not yet been found. Over the past several years, however, research has produced some insights into this puzzling condition. For instance, it has been known that most people with fibromyalgia are deprived of deep restorative sleep.
Current studies may find out how to improve the quality of sleep and some of the prescribed medicine is specifically aimed at addressing the lack of restorative sleep.
Research has identified a deficiency in Serotonin in the central nervous system coupled with a threefold increase in the neurotransmiter substance P, found in spinal fluid and which transmits pain signals.
The effect is disordered sensory processing. The brain registers pain when others might experience a slight ache or stiffness. It is hoped that more research will discover the cause and result in more effective treatment.
At the present time treatment for fibromyalgia aims at reducing pain and improving sleep. In other words, some of the symptoms are being treated, rather than the condition itself.
Learning to manage the condition seems, so far, to be the most successful way of dealing with fibromyalgia.
A combination of heat, rest, exercise and reducing stress can enable some people with fibromyalgia to maintain a productive life.