Fibromyalgia is the second most common condition affecting bones and muscles. It is a neurosensory disorder characterized by widespread muscle pain, joint stiffness and fatigue. While the chronic condition affects 6 to 12 million people in the U.S., it still is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. According to WedMD, there are no tests to confirm a diagnosis, but doctors will make a judgement after ruling out conditions with similar symptoms through blood tests and x-rays.
Symptoms may include:
- Widespread pain
- Morning stiffness
- Difficulties with memory or concentration
- Numbness or tingling in the body
- Sensitivity to temperature, bright lights and loud noises
- Painful menstruation
- Tenderness to touch
There are no known causes of fibromyalgia, but it is believed to be related to how the brain and spinal cord process pain signals from nerves throughout the body. Fibromyalgia was once thought to be a mental disorder, but it is now classified as a pain disorder that can cause multiple psychological symptoms.
The risk of developing fibromyalgia is higher for women and those who rarely exercise, have arthritis or an infection, have a mood disorder, have been abused or have PTSD, and have a family history of fibromyalgia.
How is Fibromyalgia Treated?
While there are currently no treatments to cure fibromyalgia, doctors focus on prescribing medications and recommending lifestyle changes to minimize the symptoms and reduce pain.
When experiencing widespread pain from fibromyalgia, it may be hard to get motivated to make lifestyle changes, but adjusting exercise and diet habits is an important step towards controlling pain. Exercise may sound like the last thing you want to do, and while at first it may increase pain, incorporating it into your daily routine will decrease symptoms eventually. Try picking up exercises that are easier on your joints like swimming, walking, stretching, and biking. Continue focusing on a healthy diet. Be conscious about the food choices you are making and limit your caffeine intake.
Fatigue is one of the main characteristics of fibromyalgia, which is why getting the appropriate amount of sleep is essential. Limit daytime napping, develop a sleep routine, and limit electronics before bed. Reducing stress in life can also help prevent insomnia and manage pain symptoms. Stress management techniques include deep-breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga.
Medications can help make symptoms of fibromyalgia more manageable. These include over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. A doctor may also prescribe a stronger pain reliever, an antidepressant, or anti-seizure drug that has been found to reduce pain or promote sleep. It’s important to talk to a doctor about your options and choose the right treatment that will work for you.
Fibromyalgia greatly impacts your body and your physical health, which can also have severe effects on many different aspects your life. There are a variety of different therapies that may help you live as full a life as possible with the condition. Engaging in physical therapy will improve your strength and stamina while occupational therapy can provide information on techniques used to cause less stress on the body while performing all your typical functions. Speaking with a counselor or attending a support group can teach you how to manage emotions and help you come to terms with your diagnosis.
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Alternative Ways to Treat Fibromyalgia
There are a few alternative treatment methods that have been demonstrated to improve symptoms in fibromyalgia patients.
Massage Therapy and Acupuncture
Massage therapy works by using physical techniques and oils on your skin and muscles to release tension, improve flexibility, and increase your body’s production of natural painkillers. Acupuncture is believed to treat pain by changing blood flow and levels of neurotransmitters depending on where thin needles are inserted into the skin.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
If you experience negative side effects from the medications for fibromyalgia or the treatments are not working to relieve your pain, Transcranial magnetic stimulation may be a solution for you. TMS involves using magnetic brain stimulation to improve the patients’ symptoms and does not have severe side effects that are common in oral medications. The most common side effect reported was scalp discomfort.
According to WebMD, a study found that TMS therapy decreased pain, fatigue, and depression symptoms in fibromyalgia patients and improved the quality of life.
“This improvement is associated with an increase in brain metabolism, which argues for a physical cause for this disorder and for the possibility of changes in areas of the brain to improve the symptoms,” said lead researcher Dr. Eric Guedj, of Aix-Marseille University and the National Center for Scientific Research.
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