Fibromyalgia is not at all rare — over 10 million people are affected in the United States alone, and an estimated three to six percent of the world population suffers from this chronic pain disorder — but it is poorly understood, by medical professionals and laypeople alike.
Fibromyalgia will hardly be the first thing to pop into your mind if you constantly experience muscle pain and unexplained sore spots, along with other symptoms like fatigue and headaches. It may, however, be exactly what explains your symptoms.
While fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread and debilitating muscle pain that occurs below and above the waist, it is also frequently accompanied by numerous, but fairly hard to pinpoint, other symptoms:
- Fatigue and trouble sleeping
- Stiffness in the morning
- Trouble focusing and memory problems
- Tingling of the extremities
- Painful menstrual periods in women
Fibromyalgia And 'Tender Points'
People with fibromyalgia will suffer from "tender points" or "tender spots", in many areas surrounding their joints. The joints themselves are not directly affected, and the tender spots are not very large. Affected people may feel like they've been bruised — except no bruises are present. During a flare-up, the pain may be such that they experience these tender points as if someone is actively punching them. The pain appears to originate just below the skin, and touching or otherwise putting pressure on these tender spots can cause significant discomfort.
Fibromyalgia tender points are typically located pretty much all around the body. They can be found on the:
These spots will remain painful and will not migrate. They will also be the same in different people suffering from fibromyalgia. Their cause is unknown, and no inflammation can be detected in the tender areas, even though patients will feel like their joints are inflamed.
Who Is At Risk Of Developing Fibromyalgia?
We know that upward of 75 percent of all fibromyalgia patients are women, as well as that people who suffer from arthritis are more likely to develop the condition. It is also known that autoimmune diseases, in general, are linked to fibromyalgia.
Diagnosis may be made with the help of a physical exam during which a doctor presses known tender points to see if they hurt, or may be based on your description alone. Other tests will be carried out to eliminate the possibility that you are suffering from another condition, as opposed to with the purpose of confirming the diagnosis.
Just as the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, there is no known cure for this condition. Fibromyalgia can, however, be managed in such a way as to minimize your discomfort. Commonly taken measures include:
- The use of painkillers.
- Antidepressants like Cymbalta to reduce your fatigue and pain.
- Anti-seizure drugs like Lyrica.
- Occupational therapy to help you make practical lifestyle adjustments that allow you to function better.
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