Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain at “tender points” (specific places on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs) that have a heightened painful response when pressure is put on them. FM symptoms are not restricted to pain. FM is actually a “syndrome” - a set of symptoms existing together. Other symptoms may include debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance and joint stiffness. Some patients also may report difficulty swallowing, bowel and bladder abnormalities, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, problems with thinking and memory (sometimes called “brain fog” or “fibro fog”), headaches and migraines, anxiety and depression.
FM is estimated to affect 5 million to 6 million Americans age 18 or older. Eighty to 90 percent are women, although men and children also can have the disorder. FM is usually diagnosed between 20 to 50 years of age. Roughly one quarter of people with FM are work-disabled because of their condition.
FM is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. The cause is unknown, although current thought suggests it may be related to problems with the central nervous system. There is no laboratory, radiologic or other diagnostic test to diagnose FM. However, these types of tests can be used to exclude other possible conditions.
Since people with fibromyalgia tend to look healthy, and conventional tests are typically normal, a physician knowledgeable about the disorder is necessary to make a diagnosis. Many family physicians, general internists, neurologists and rheumatologists can treat FM. This syndrome is not a form of arthritis and does not cause inflammation or damage to joints, muscles or other tissues.
There are two established criteria for the diagnosis of FM: Widespread pain (pain occurring on both sides of the body and above and below the waist) lasting at least three months, and at least 11 positive tender points - out of a possible total of 18. (Tender points are identified by putting just enough pressure to cause the nail bed to blanch or turn white.)
There is no cure for FM, and there is no treatment that will address all FM symptoms. Yet, FM can be treated with an individual plan designed by you and your doctor actively working together. The most effective treatment approaches for FM symptoms use a combination of medications, non-drug therapies and self-help strategies.
If you feel you may have FM, make an appointment with your doctor and prepare for your appointment in advance by writing out a detailed description of your symptoms, information about medical problems you’ve had in the past, information about the medical problems of your parents or siblings, all the medications and dietary supplements you take and questions you want to ask the doctor.
For more information contact Patrice Dunagin, Smith County FCS agent for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, at 903-590-2980.