General Health Wednesday September 2, 2015

Fibromyalgia FAQ: What You Should Know

It's Fibromyalgia Awareness Week from 6th to 13th September. What's it about? The clue is in the title. A quick poll around my house yielded no takers on the subject of fibromyalgia, other than a question on whether it was related to constipation. I think the 'fibre' part misled him.

Many claim fibro is not a real illness - that's people who don't suffer with it, of course.

What is Fibromyalgia?

It's an illness that causes pain and fatigue. That sounds pretty simple, but fibro isn't a simple condition. It ranges wildly from mild tiredness to a severity so extreme that the sufferer can't hold down a job or maintain a quality of life. Some describe it as the 'tired' you get after flu - but it's every day without the hope of getting better.

What Are The Symptoms?

Here are a few of the most common symptoms:

  • Tiredness that won't dissipate even after sleep
  • Aching pains across the body
  • Headaches
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Irritable bowel
  • Problems with concentration, memory, and mixing up words - known as the fibro-fog
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to stimuli such as light, noise and weather.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Diagnosis is difficult because there is no laboratory test to say whether or not you have it. Instead diagnosis is dependent on a range of symptoms. To be classed as suffering from fibromyalgia you need to have all other illnesses dismissed along with these problems:

  • Pain in all four quadrants of the body for at least three months.
  • Pain in at least 11 out of 18 tender point sites when tested by a specialist.

What Are The Causes?

It's a difficult one because no one knows yet. Some experts think it's a lack of restorative sleep, but some research has shown sufferers may have a deficiency of serotonin in the central nervous system, plus an increase in a substance that transmits pain signals.

Fibro affects seven times more women than men and sometimes appears after a traumatic event such as losing a loved one, childbirth, or an accident. Both physical and mental trauma can trigger it.

More research is needed and hopefully in the not too distant future we'll know more about this condition. Sufferers will then be able to shove it somewhere the non-believing numpties hold dear.

Are There Any Treatments?

It's hard to treat an illness when you don't really know the cause, so it's a case of managing the symptoms.

  • Medication can be useful. Antidepressants are used to treat sleep disorders as well as depression in fibromyalgia. Painkillers are often needed to combat the aches and pains on a daily basis. When the pain is severe some patients are referred to a pain clinic for specialist attention.
  • Talking therapies such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy.
  • Lifestyle changes such as relaxation techniques to promote sleep and deal with stress.
  • Exercise has been shown to help with fibro. It can ease pain and promote anti-anxiety.

Just because we don't know exactly what fibromyalgia is doesn't mean we can suggest it doesn't exist. Besides, my copy of Word knows how fibromyalgia is spelt, so it must be real.

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