Might You Have Fibromyalgia?

April 22, 2022

woman with sore neck and headache

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition, characterized by widespread body pain that can even be triggered by just a slight touch. Other symptoms that often accompany fibromyalgia include an inability to focus known as “fibro fog,” migraine headaches, fatigue, problems sleeping, depression, abdominal cramping, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders and anxiety.

The tender muscle points found in fibromyalgia sufferers were actually documented in the 1820’s, but back then the condition was known as fibrositis. At the time, doctors believed the tenderness and pain were caused by actual inflammation at the tender points. It wasn’t until 1976 that the condition was renamed fibromyalgia and not until 1980 that the American College of Rheumatology established clear guidelines for diagnosis.

Research suggests that fibromyalgia affects the way your brain and spinal cord process pain signals and causes your brain to amplify pain sensations. More women than men are affected by fibromyalgia and symptoms often begin after some type of physical trauma, such as surgery, an infection, an accident or even after significant psychological stress.

But just because you have trouble sleeping, you’re fatigued and you have body pain does not necessarily mean you have fibromyalgia, as your symptoms must match the 2019 diagnostic criteria. You must also have had widespread pain plus other symptoms for three months or more.

Fibromyalgia has been and continues to be a controversial syndrome, with some physicians not taking it seriously. If you believe you have fibromyalgia and your doctor says your condition is not real, or blames them on stress or anxiety or even depression, don’t lose heart. On average, it takes two years for most people with fibromyalgia to get a diagnosis and you may have to seek out a more sympathetic physician who specializes in this area, such as a rheumatologist.

Although there are several prescription medications for fibromyalgia including the SSRI antidepressants, many people prefer to manage their symptoms without prescription drugs, using over the counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Some people find that massage therapy helps and others turn to acupuncture or chiropractic care. Gentle exercise such as swimming or tai chi can help to relieve pain.

It’s important to do everything you can to get adequate sleep such as avoiding caffeine for several hours before bed and reducing your exposure to electronic screens in the evening. You should get regular exercise such as walking or swimming and you may want to have an evaluation by a physical therapist to get an exercise program individualized for you.

Stress reduction is also very important as both stress and anxiety can cause your symptoms to worsen. Listening to guided meditation audios can help, as well as learning breathing techniques for relaxation. One of the most important things you can do is to learn to listen to your own body and not push yourself. Give yourself permission to rest when you are tired or you feel overwhelmed.

Because many people, including some doctors, do not understand fibromyalgia, you may feel isolated and alone, especially if your friends don’t understand or worse, think you are simply making up symptoms. Educate your family and friends about the condition if they are open to it.

Joining a support group for people who have fibromyalgia, either in person or online, can be immensely helpful. Just being around others who understand what you are going through and who can offer a listening ear or advice about what has worked for them can be extremely beneficial. Some people find that regular sessions with a knowledgeable therapist, especially one skilled in a type of therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can also help.

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