What is it?
Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues, hampering or halting physical movement. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome characterized by long-lasting widespread pain and tenderness at specific points on the body. The term “fibromyalgia” means pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Although not defining characteristics, sleep disturbances and fatigue are also integral symptoms of fibromyalgia.
This condition is referred to as a syndrome because it’s a set of signs and symptoms that occur together with no known cause or identifiable reason. Although considered an arthritis-related condition, fibromyalgia is not truly a form of arthritis because it does not cause inflammation or damage to the joints, muscles or other tissues. It is, however, considered a rheumatic condition because it impairs the joints and/or soft tissues and causes chronic pain.
Fibromyalgia is an especially confusing and often misunderstood condition. Because its symptoms are quite common and laboratory tests results generally are normal, people with fibromyalgia were once told that their condition was “all in their head.” However, medical studies have proven that fibromyalgia does indeed exist, and it is estimated to affect about two percent of the U.S. population today.
Although fibromyalgia has no cure, it isn’t a progressive disease, meaning that it will not get worse over time and it’s never fatal. With a treatment plan that integrates several modalities that include exercise, rest, stress relief, coping skills and medications, people with fibromyalgia can live happy, productive lives.
What are the effects?
Fibromyalgia can cause many symptoms that vary from person to person, but the main ones are:
- Pain and tenderness - Musculoskeletal pain in all sections of the body is the most common symptom of fibromyalgia. The pain may begin in one region of the body, but eventually every section becomes affected. For some people, the pain waxes and wanes, and seems to travel throughout the body. The muscle and tissue pain has been described as tender, aching, throbbing, sore, burning and gnawing; it sometimes is accompanied by strange sensations such as tingling, numbness, burning or prickling.
- Fatigue and sleep disturbance - Most (75 to 80 percent) people with fibromyalgia experience chronic fatigue and tire quickly after only mild exertion. In fact, about half of individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia also meet the diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome. For many people, the fatigue can be more debilitating than the pain.
How is it diagnosed?
The difficulty diagnosing fibromyalgia is that there is no clear-cut test to determine fibromyalgia. No evidence of it appears on X-rays or in laboratory test results. There is no diagnostic marker in the blood. People with fibromyalgia often look healthy and have no outward signs of pain or fatigue.
Instead, fibromyalgia is diagnosed by the identification of symptoms and the exclusion of other conditions.
What are the treatment options?
Because the central cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, there is no one treatment that will make your symptoms go away. A well-rounded treatment plan may consist of a combination of medications and exercise.