Fibromyalgia is one of the most devastating conditions anyone can deal with. In addition to the excruciating pain, loss of energy, and mobility problems that people with fibromyalgia often report, it can also be notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat. Too many patients trying to overcome fibromyalgia over the years have been told they are exaggerating or even making up symptoms.
The truth is that fibromyalgia is a very real condition that can have a significant impact on your quality of life. And while there is not currently a cure for fibromyalgia, it is possible to successfully manage symptoms — especially if you recognize the early warning signs and take action. If you are wondering if pain, fatigue, and other issues you are experiencing are fibromyalgia and how to know for sure, this guide can help you take the first steps.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a pain disorder mainly characterized by widespread pain throughout the body accompanied by other symptoms. Doctors and medical researchers do not fully understand the causes of fibromyalgia, but it could possibly be related to genetic factors that affect the way the brain processes and perceives pain.
Risk factors for fibromyalgia include:
- Age, with older people being more likely to be diagnosed
- Sex, with a higher percentage of women having fibromyalgia
- Being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or Lupus
- Dealing with a traumatic event such as a car accident or serious injury
- Recovering from a viral infection or other serious illness
- Presence of conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, mental health disorders, and Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,) about 4 million people in the United States live with some form of fibromyalgia.
Is it Fibromyalgia? How to Recognize the Symptoms
There is a wide range of variation for how people develop fibromyalgia and how they experience symptoms. For some people, the onset of symptoms is sudden and severe, while for others it can be gradual and start out mildly. Similarly, some patients can identify a specific triggering event, such as an injury or surgery, but for others, there might not be a clear identifiable cause.
While no two cases are exactly the same, the most commonly reported symptoms of fibromyalgia are:
- Pain throughout the body: People often describe fibromyalgia pain as a dull throb or ache without a clear or direct source. This pain can be present on the left and right side, as well as the upper and lower body, and typically persists for at least three months.
- Migraines: While the exact relationship is unclear, severe headaches and migraines are very common for people with fibromyalgia.
- Mental problems: Fibromyalgia is widely associated with cognitive difficulties including brain fog, forgetfulness, and an inability to concentrate. There is also a high rate of overlap with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
- Lack of energy: Many people with fibromyalgia report feeling chronic fatigue for no understandable reason, often despite adequate levels of sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
- Sleep disturbances: Pain and symptoms related to fibromyalgia can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep, creating a vicious cycle of increased pain and fatigue.
While all of these symptoms don’t need to be present, experiencing more than one of these issues in addition to widespread pain can be a clear warning sign of fibromyalgia.
If you are dealing with potential symptoms of fibromyalgia, it is important to receive a clear diagnosis from a qualified physician, such as your primary care doctor or a pain management specialist. Doctors will usually take the following steps to diagnose fibromyalgia pain:
- Review patient and family medical history
- Discuss symptoms, including length, severity, and types
- Perform a thorough physical examination that includes checking painful or sensitive areas
- Order blood work to rule out certain conditions or confirm the presence of issues such as rheumatoid arthritis or Lupus that may be related
To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, patients must generally be experiencing widespread pain in multiple areas of the body for three months or longer. Be weary of any physician or medical professional who does not take your symptoms seriously. Many fibromyalgia patients have to see multiple providers before finding an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
How to Manage Fibromyalgia Pain
It is possible to successfully manage fibromyalgia pain. Most doctors recommend a combination of medication, nonsurgical interventions, and healthy lifestyle management. Effective options include:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium
- Anti-seizure medications, such as gabapentin or pregabalin, have been shown to be effective in reducing fibromyalgia related pain
- Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication can help manage mental health conditions and may also help regulate the way the brain processes pain signals
- Physical therapy and occupational therapy along with regular exercise can help improve energy, strengthen the body and improve flexibility for people with fibromyalgia
Many fibromyalgia patients also find relief by working with a pain management specialist to explore interventional pain management therapies ranging from injections to electrostimulation.
Take Control of Your Pain with Physician Partners of America
From diagnosis to treatment, if you are concerned about the impact of fibromyalgia pain on your life, Physician Partners of America (PPOA) can help. Our caring and dedicated team can work with you to create a personalized care plan based on your unique condition, lifestyle, and recovery goals. Don’t let chronic pain take over your life — take control and contact PPOA today to get in touch with a pain management specialist near you.