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Fibromyalgia, It's All In Your Head.....Making Sense of a Misunderstood Condition.


"It's all in your head."
"You just have the flu."
"You need to sleep  more, eat this, don't eat that, drink more water..."
"You don't LOOK sick."

For people with Fibromyalgia these are all things we have probably heard at one time or another.  Fibromyalgia is a common, yet very misunderstood condition.  It is a silent, yet miserable predator.  There are no medical tests (Lab work, MRI's, Ultrasound, etc) to diagnose it.  The symptoms can mimic many other diseases.  It is a disease of last resort.  A diagnosis made after months, perhaps years, of frustrating testing to rule out every other possible condition.  For people suffering from Fibromyalgia sometimes a day can seem like a lifetime. 

What exactly is this mysterious condition?  The Mayo Clinic defines Fibromyalgia as a chronic condition characterized by 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.  Fibromyalgia is more common in women than in men.  Although the intensity of the symptoms can vary, depending on the weather, stress, physical activity levels or even the time of day, it may be reassuring to know that Fibromyalgia isn't life threatening or progressive.  However, that doesn't mean that Fibro (as we in the "club" refer to it) isn't a serious and debilitating condition. 

Although widespread pain is the most common symptom, there are many others that often accompany it.  Fatigue and sleep disturbances are extremely common among Fibro sufferers.  They often wake up tired and unrefreshed even though they may seem to be getting plenty of sleep.  This may be attributed to a sleep disorder called alpha wave interrupted sleep pattern, a condition in which deep sleep is often similar to wakefulness.  Nighttime muscle spasms and restless legs syndrome may also contribute to lack of sleep in Fibromyalgia patients. 

The constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is also reported frequently in people with Fibromyalgia.  Many also have frequent headaches, facial pain and an increased incidence of Temporomandibular Disorder (TMJ).  Another very common symptom is heightened sensitivity to odors, noises, bright lights, temperature and touch.  Some patients report that their skin is extremely sensitive, as if they had a severe sunburn, and even air blowing across it brings uncomfortable feelings of pain.  Some other common signs and symptoms of Fibromyalgia include:
  • Depression
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet (Paresthesia)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood changes
  • Chest pain
  • Dry eyes, skin and mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
Fibromyalgia is still a new and misunderstood condition.  It is not known what causes it and it can develop at any time, often quite suddenly.  Current theories revolve around something called Central Sensitization.  This theory states that people with Fibromyalgia have a lower threshold for pain because of increased sensitivity in the brain to pain signals.  This involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals to the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters) and the brain's pain receptors (neurons) developing a "pain memory" and becoming abnormally over reactive to pain stimulus.  Other theories as to the cause and/or contribution to Fibromyalgia are sleep disturbances, injury, infection, abnormalities of the autonomic nervous system and changes in muscle metabolism.  Psychological stress and hormonal changes can also contribute. 

Treatments for Fibro are as varied as the symptoms.  There is not one miracle treatment that works for every patient.  It is often a matter of trial and error and what works for one person may not work for another.  Common medications used in the treatment of Fibromyalgia are Analgesics, Anti-Depressants, Muscle Relaxants, Pregabalin (Lyrica) and Duloxetine (Cymbalta).  Other treatments can be used in conjunction with drug therapy to ease symptoms.  These include Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Relaxation Techniques, Biofeedback, Massage Therapy, Heat Therapy and Exercise. 

It can be hard to deal with having a condition that is often misunderstood.  It is helpful to know that you aren't alone.  Seek out support groups and investigate online resources for more information.  Often these places can provide a level of help and support you may not find anywhere else.  It can also give you the opportunity to connect with others who going through the same experiences as you.  Rest assured, it is not all in your head, and you are not alone. 



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