Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition described as widespread pain in your muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points — places on your body where slight pressure causes pain. This condition is more common in women than in men. Fibromyalgia may also be known by other names such as fibrositis, chronic muscle pain syndrome, psychogenic rheumatism and tension myalgias.
While the intensity of your symptoms may vary, it is unlikely the pain will disappear completely. Fortunately, fibromyalgia isn't progressive or life-threatening. Treatments and certain self-care steps can improve symptoms caused by fibromyalgia and your general health.
Factors such as weather, stress, physical activity or even the time of day may affect the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia.
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. A theory known as "central sensitization" states that people with fibromyalgia have a lower threshold for pain because of increased sensitivity in the brain to pain signals.
Studies show that repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters). In addition, the brain's pain receptors (neurons) — which receive signals from the neurotransmitters — seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, this can result in overreaction to pain signals. Pressure on a spot on the body that wouldn't hurt someone without fibromyalgia can be very painful to someone with the condition. It is unknown what initiates this process of central sensitization.
A number of factors may contribute to the development of fibromyalgia. Other theories as to the cause of fibromyalgia include:
It is often difficult to diagnose fibromyalgia due to the fact that, oftentimes, lab testing appears normal and many of the symptoms are similar to those of other disorders. A definitive diagnosis of fibromyalgia syndrome is usually only be made when no other medical disease can explain the symptoms. Fibromyalgia is often a diagnosis of exclusion.
Treatment for fibromyalgia includes both medication and home therapy. The goal is to minimize symptoms and improve general health.
Medications can help reduce the pain of fibromyalgia and improve sleep. Common choices include:
This behavior therapy attempts to strengthen your belief in your abilities and teaches you methods for dealing with stressful situations. Therapy may take place through individual counseling, classes, or through tapes, CDs or DVDs. This behavior therapy may help improve the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.
In some cases, it may be necessary to implement a multidisciplinary program to help relieve symptoms and pain associated with fibromyalgia. This involves combining a variety of treatments including relaxation techniques, biofeedback and receiving education about chronic pain. Your doctor will help suggest a treatment program based on what works best for you.