What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a medical condition characterized by chronic pain in muscles and surrounding structures, and these structures are unusually tender. It is a widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder for which the cause is still unknown, and it can drastically change a person's life.

Research is currently being done to find a cause for this chronic condition, but so far, only theories have been formulated. One theory is that either physical or emotional trauma could be a potential cause of fibromyalgia. When peripheral nerve fibers which are in the skin, muscle, and bone are stimulated by an injury, a substance is released into the area of the spinal cord. This substance is called substance P, and it diffuses out in all directions, thus facilitating the transmission of the pain message to the brain by a sequence of chemical reactions. Also, substance P is associated with the spread of the pain perception to other areas of the body by new interneural connections called plasticity. These new connections can confuse the person's ability to locate the original source of the pain.

Symptoms include widespread pain in all quadrants of the body, sleep disturbance, severe stiffness after waking, and feeling like you have been run over by a Mack truck upon awakening. Sleep apnea, nighttime jerking of the arms and legs, restless leg syndrome, and teeth grinding have been found to occur with FMS-diagnosed people.

Other symptoms include irritable bowel syndrome, which manifests itself with constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, abdominal gas and nausea; chronic headaches, such as migraines or tension-type headaches; and temporomandibular joint dysfunction syndrome (TMJ), which causes tremendous face and head pain and is thought to be related to the muscles and ligaments surrounding the jaw joint. Other common symptoms are premenstrual syndrome and painful menstrual periods, chest pain, cognitive or memory impairment, numbness and tingling sensations, muscle twitching, irritable bladder, the feeling of swollen extremities, skin sensitivities, dry eyes and mouth, frequent changes in eye prescription, dizziness, and impaired coordination.

Changes in weather, cold or drafty environments, hormonal fluctuations, stress, depression, anxiety, and over-exertion can all contribute to symptom flare-ups. A skilled physician can make a diagnosis in five minutes. Its hallmarks are pain that interferes with the person's life and a feeling of pain at 11 of 18 sites on the body, when 4 kilos of pressure is applied.

tender points

Studies have found that the level of pain with fibromyalgia is slightly higher than that of rheumatoid arthritis. There is no cure, but understanding the condition aids in managing it. Lifestyle modifications may help to conserve energy and minimize pain. The use of medications such as anti-depressants to aid in sleep patterns, and both over-the-counter pain medications and prescription pain medications may be necessary. Herbs and vitamins may help some people, but all medications work on an individual basis. What may help one person, may not help another. Relaxation, meditation, a sense of humor, and mild exercise may be beneficial in reducing the pain and fatigue. People who think that they have fibromyalgia are encouraged to seek a proper examination and diagnosis from a medical doctor who has knowledge and understanding of this syndrome.

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