Fibromyalgia - more than physical pain

Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread chronic pain. Individuals with fibromyalgia may experience a number of symptoms including pain and swelling in many joints or soft tissues, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, weakness, poor memory and difficulty concentrating.

In addition, individuals with fibromyalgia might feel stiff, particularly in the morning, or may have numbness in their joints or muscles. Dry eyes, inability to tolerate cold weather, food and medication sensitivities, headaches, irritable bowel and bladder, and jaw pain are also common.

Fibromyalgia seems to involve a heightened sensitivity to pain and this experience often causes sufferers to become less active in order to avoid their constant pain. A downward cycle ensues as the decreased activity causes muscles to weaken and makes future activity more difficult. Further, being in pain and not sleeping well puts individuals with this condition into a cycle of fatigue that is difficult to break.

Depression is also a common experience for those with fibromyalgia. Being in constant pain and having no energy makes it difficult to manage normal daily activities such as maintaining a job or household and it also hinders recreational and leisure pursuits. All of this can cause stress and anxiety as well as depression.

Unfortunately, these inherent stressors tend to be made worse because people with fibromyalgia appear fine to others and often do not get understanding and support from family, friends or employers.

Sometimes even healthcare professionals don’t take chronic pain seriously or may act as though the person is simply trying to get attention or as though the ailment is entirely in the person’s head. Of course, this is not true and the lack of empathy shown by skeptical observers only adds to the stress and frustration of the individual who is living life in constant, unexplained pain.

In order to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia you must have experienced widespread chronic pain for at least three months and the pain must be in areas both above and below the waist and on both the right and left sides of the body.

Further, fibromyalgia involves at least 11 of a possible 18 distinct sites of muscle tenderness that hurt when touched firmly. These include spots on the side of the neck, the shoulder blades, the outside of the upper buttock and hip joint and the insides of the knees. A doctor would test these by pressing these spots and recording the patient’s perceived pain.

In addition to the widespread pain and tenderness, most people with fibromyalgia also experience a wide variety of other symptoms. Some of these are common in other conditions and a doctor may order blood tests, x-rays and other laboratory tests to rule out other possible conditions. There is no specific diagnostic test for fibromyalgia.

It is not yet understood what causes fibromyalgia and as a result we do not have very effective treatments for this painful condition.

Current treatment tends to focus on lessening or eliminating symptoms and usually involves some combination of pain medication and sleeping pills. Because of the lack of truly effective treatment, many doctors are reluctant to diagnose fibromyalgia.

Research into better treatments is ongoing. At Okanagan Clinical Trials we currently have a study examining an investigational medication for fibromyalgia. If you experience this kind of chronic pain, contact our office to schedule a medical assessment or for more information.


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