Fibromyalgia is a condition in which people describe symptoms that include widespread pain and tenderness in the body, often accompanied by fatigue, cognitive disturbance and emotional distress.
Fibromyalgia affects two to five per cent of the population, mainly women, although men and adolescents can also develop the condition. It tends to develop during middle adulthood.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
The symptoms of fibromyalgia can vary from mild to severe. The most common symptoms are:
- increased sensitivity to pain due to a decreased pain threshold
- increased responsiveness to sensory stimuli such as heat, cold, light and numbness or tingling
- extreme fatigue (tiredness)
- problems with cognition (impacting on memory and concentration)
- problems with sleep.
It is important to remember that each person with fibromyalgia will have their own unique set of symptoms.
The symptoms of fibromyalgia are variable. They can be mild, moderate or severe. Symptoms may disappear for extended periods of time, perhaps even years. Other people have pain every day, or experience variations between these two extremes.
Some people with fibromyalgia have other symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome, irritable or overactive bladder, headaches, and swelling and numbness or tingling in the arms and legs. Living with ongoing pain and fatigue often leads to secondary problems such as anxiety and depression.
Causes of fibromyalgia
The cause or causes of fibromyalgia are not known. It is more common in people with:
- lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- an illness such as a virus (or a recent illness or infection)
- pain from an injury or trauma
- emotional stress and depression
- family history
- previous pain syndromes
- mood disorders
- substance abuse.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but treatment can help some symptoms.
Triggers for fibromyalgia symptoms
Fibromyalgia symptoms can be triggered or made worse by several factors, including:
- weather changes
- hard physical labour
- mental stress
- other musculoskeletal disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.
Diagnosis of fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia can be very difficult to diagnose as it does not cause any inflammation or damage. There are no blood tests, x-rays or scans that can test for fibromyalgia, but these tests may be used to exclude other conditions.
Signs that suggest a diagnosis of fibromyalgia are:
- widespread pain for three months or longer
- abnormal tenderness at particular points around the neck, shoulder, chest, hip, knee and elbow
- disturbed sleep patterns
- that a multimodal assessment and diagnosis is required.
Treatment for fibromyalgia
There is no cure for fibromyalgia. Effective management starts with a correct diagnosis. A management program should then be designed to meet each person’s needs.
Generally, management of fibromyalgia will involve a combination of:
- Education – people with fibromyalgia need to understand the condition in order to decide which management approach will help them.
- Medication – combined with other strategies, medication may be used to manage pain, reduce stress or promote sleep.
- Exercise – a gentle aerobic exercise program, such as walking, tai chi or water-based exercise, can help to manage symptoms such as pain, fatigue and sleep disturbance.
- Stress management and relaxation – stress may aggravate symptoms. Skills that can help manage stress include planning, relaxation, assertiveness and emotional management.
- Balancing rest and activity – plan your activities to make the most of your energy by alternating periods of activity with rest. Break large jobs down into small achievable tasks so that you do not overdo things.
- Massage – this can aid muscle relaxation and stress management.
- Nutrition – eating a balanced diet can help provide you with better energy levels, help to maintain your weight, and give you a greater sense of wellbeing.
- Support from others – contact Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria for information about support group locations and contact details.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria Tel. (03) 8531 8000 or 1800 263 265
Things to remember
- Fibromyalgia is a condition in which people describe widespread pain and tenderness in ‘the body.
- Each person with fibromyalgia will have their own set of symptoms.
- There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but symptoms can be managed.
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MOVE muscle, bone & joint health
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