Fibromyalgia Awareness – by Ashley Boynes

Fibromyalgia is a pain. Literally. Today is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day and this is definitely a condition that needs more awareness surrounding it.

Although it isn’t technically a form of arthritis, it is a related condition and shares many overlapping symptoms with various forms of arthritis and rheumatic disease.

Fibromyalgia – a chronic pain condition also known as “fibro” – is a syndrome which is characterized by long-lasting widespread pain and tenderness at specific points all over the body. It is a chronic condition meaning that it is ongoing, not acute in nature. The term “fibromyalgia” means pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Sleep disturbances and fatigue are also integral symptoms of fibromyalgia….sometimes, these are the most life-altering symptoms.

Fibro is called a “syndrome” because it is a set of signs and symptoms that occur together with no known cause or identifiable “rhyme or reason.”  Unlike a “disease,” which is a medical condition with a specific cause or causes and recognizable signs and symptoms, a syndrome (like fibro) is a collection of signs, symptoms, and medical problems that tend to occur together but are not related to any specific, identifiable cause.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, “it is not truly a form of arthritis because it does not cause inflammation or damage to the joints, muscles or other tissues. It is, however, considered a rheumatic condition because it impairs the joints and/or soft tissues and causes chronic pain.”  Some consider fibromyalgia to be less rheumatic and more neurological in nature. Some studies have suggested that part of the problem in people with fibro is in regards to the nerves/part of brain that controls pain perception.
Fibromyalgia is a sometimes-confusing and often-misunderstood condition with unfortunate misconceptions surrounding it. The symptoms that people with fibromyalgia have are very common and are found in multitudinous other conditions and ailments, sometimes making it difficult to pinpoint. There is no one specific “lab test” or set of bloodwork that can be used to identify fibromyalgia, and, due to this fact, many people who live with fibromyalgia have normal lab results – again, making it hard to get an appropriate diagnosis.

Because a lot of fibro diagnoses are made based on simply what the patient “tells” their doctor rather than on more quantitative evidence, people with fibromyalgia were once (sadly and unfairly) told that their condition was “all in their head.” It isn’t. Medical studies have proven that fibromyalgia does indeed exist, and it is estimated to affect almost two percent of the United States population at present.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition with no cure, but, it in and of itself isn’t  a progressive disease. This simply means that it won’t get worse over time and, thankfully,  it’s never fatal. That being said, some folks with fibro do have comorbidities, a.k.a. coexisting conditions, and, sometimes those conditions can be progressive or more dangerous. It is common for people with fibromyalgia and/or CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome, an associated ailment) to have other conditions that are autoimmune in nature (i.e. rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s, etc.)

Folks with fibromyalgia are prone to depression and often begin to live sedentary lifestyles, which is actually the worst thing for this kind of syndrome. Those with fibro should make sure to live as healthy of a lifestyle as possible, and should seek out treatments that are best for them as individuals. With a treatment plan that is about overall wellness and a healthful lifestyle, and one that include proper exercise or physical therapy, plenty of rest, stress-reducing techniques, coping skills or counseling, a healthy diet, proper vitamins and supplements, and medications, people with fibro can live full, happy, productive, and relatively “normal” lives. Massage therapy, biofeedback, and acupuncture have been known to be of great help to fibromyalgia patients. Swimming and yoga are great exercises for “fibromites” as well as tai chi. Those with fibro have no dietary restrictions, although going gluten-free has been of great help to some fibromyalgia patients. Eating foods and/or taking vitamins that are healthful for nerve repair and muscle health are also beneficial.

Fibro is a complex chronic pain disorder and affects people not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and socially, too. This is why it is important for fibromyalgia patients to have a good support system – whether it’s online, in real life, at home, at a church, or through a club , hospital, fibro organization, or school. It is a sometimes-disabling condition that really affects every aspect of one’s life.

Fibromyalgia is at times also referred to as fibromyalgia syndrome, FM, fibromyositis and fibrositis. It is often associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or CFS but they are not one in the same.

In honor of Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, here are some more facts about this elusive and mysterious syndrome that affects millions of Americans:

* The fibromyalgia diagnostic criteria, established by the American College of Rheumatology in 1990, includes a history of widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body for a minimum duration of three months, and pain in at least 11 of the 18 designated tender points when a specified amount of pressure is applied. 

Research has documented neuroendocrine physiological abnormalities that may contribute to the symptoms. Aside from chronic pain and fatigue, other symptoms of fibro can include environmental sensitivities, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, migraines, sleep disorders, and more. Most people with fibro “look” healthy and “normal” so some doctors or the general public may be surprised to know about all of the symptoms that they deal with on a daily basis.

*  Fibro occurs most often in women, but it also strikes men and children, and all ethnic backgrounds….fibro does not discriminate! It affects almost 10 million Americans, and these cases range from mild/functioning to severe/debilitating. It affects women versus men at a 20:1 ratio. Many times, the onset is when a person is in their 20′s or 30′s.

* Recent research has suggested a possible but not definitive genetic component. The disorder seems to be often seen in families, among siblings or mothers and their children.

* Fibromyalgia quite often occurs following a physical trauma like acute illness or injury. This trauma can sometimes act as a “trigger” in the development of the disorder – the “catalyst”, if you will.

* As I alluded to above, the idea that the central nervous system is the underlying mechanism of fibromyalgia is growing increasingly popular. Recent studies have suggested that fibro patients have some kind of generalized disturbance in their pain processing, and thus go through an amplified response to stimuli that would not ordinarily be painful in healthier individuals.

* Since there is no known cure – yet! – for fibromyalgia, the treatments focus on relieving symptoms, increasing comfort, and improving day-to-day function.

While great strides in the areas of research, diagnosis, and treatment have been made in the last decade or so, fibromyalgia remains a challenging and mysterious condition. It is often difficult for patients with fibromyalgia to express to others in their lives how truly painful, amazingly discouraging, and awesomely inconvenient this frustrating condition can be. This is why every day should be “fibromyalgia awareness day!”

How many of you have fibromyalgia? Do you have it by itself or with an overlapping condition? Please leave a comment and share your story – we’d love to hear! Also, before I go, I want to remind you all – whether you’re dealing with fibro or another chronic pain condition – that there’s always hope! The best way out is always through – you may not be able to get “out of” having fibromyalgia … but you can CERTAINLY “get through it!” 

Stay well,

Ashley Boynes

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