Fibromyalgia is a complex chronic condition which is characterized by widespread aches and pain. Suffers of this syndrome deal with the constant struggle to manage their lives through pain, exhaustion, and mental clarity. The medical community for a while have used tender points and widespread pain as a basis for diagnosis; however, that alone does not capture the essence of FM, multiple symptoms of which prominently include fatigue, sleep disturbance and cognitive dysfunction. (via) I describe it as feeling like I have the flu (body aches) all the time, and my entire body is just one big bruise. What makes it even harder is that most do not understand the condition, it’s causes, how exactly to diagnosis it, and even how to care for it.
Fibromyalgia literally means pain in the muscles or fibrous tissue. If one breaks down the root of the word, this is what it means: fibro = from the Latin fibra “tissue”, my = from the Greek mus “muscle”, and algia = suffix denoting “pain,” from the Greek algos “pain,” algein “to feel pain,” of unknown origin. Related to alegein “to care about,” originally “to feel pain.”
Many patients see doctor after doctor, and become heavily in debt with medical bills, just trying to find an explanation of why they hurt all over. Many doctors, friends, and even family members tell them the pain is all in their head. It takes an average of 3-5 years for most people to get diagnosed today, according to National Fibromyalgia Association. It was not until 1990 that the American College of Rheumatology developed guidelines for classifying the syndrome. Even my mother experienced Fibromyalgia pain since the 1960s. My grandfather, who was a very prestigious and accomplished internist, specializing in pulmonology, had no idea how to diagnosis is daughter. It was not until 1992, when my mother read an article on Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia in “The Ladies Home Journal”, that she and her Rheumatologist had a name to call her pain. But, that was just the beginning of the battle.
There are two main tests doctors use to tell if patients are suffering from Fibromyalgia:
* Chronic ( lasting longer that 3 months) pain which is located on both sides of the body (above and below the waist)
* The trigger/tender point test: Patients have at least 11 points on their body where occurring at muscle tendon junctions that when pressure is applied, it is overly painful. There are 18 specific points in total.
Along with the aches and pains of fibromyalgia, patients usually experience other complex medical problems, adding to the complexity of our understanding of the condition. Many symptoms of fibromyalgia are shared with many other intricate conditions or diseases, thus adding to even more confusion. And, no two FM suffers are the same.
Our understanding of fibromyalgia today:
It is estimated that about three to six percent of the general public have fibromyalgia, most of whom are women. Researchers are now also looking at how fibro suffers respond to pain. There is evidence that fibromyalgia patients’ brains are hypersensitive to pain, like their pain receptors have the volume always turned up.
“Researchers in 2002 reported that when the thumbs of fibromyalgia patients were pinched, their brain activity showed that they felt far more pain than a control group experiencing the same pressure. (DANIEL CLAUW)” source: health.com
Clinical research is also showing that fibromyalgia sufferers’ brain chemistry is off balance. The levels of dopamine, your body’s natural pain killer, are low or non-existent in a FM subject.
Other hormone levels like cortisol and neurotransmitters such as seratonin, a chemical responsible for your moods and levels of happiness are found to be abnormal in fibromyalgia patients, and could be a cause for their distorted ability to perceive pain, their sleep problems, and fatigue.
Where do we go from here?:
While there is no exact cure for fibromyalgia, pain and other symptoms can be managed. Through a multidisciplinary approach of including but not limited to western medicine, eastern medicine, diet, exercise, and forming a support network, fibromyalgia patients and their families can thrive in their lives in spite of fibro. New treatments and medical discoveries are revealed everyday. By learning to laugh, love, and never give up, FM sufferers will flourish in their lives with fibro.