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What is fibromyalgia?

Published:Wednesday | January 7, 2015 | 3:54 PM

All of us have pain from time to time. It helps to tell us when something is wrong so that we can take corrective measures. When pain becomes persistent, it can really become disabling. This can happen to someone with fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic (long-term and incurable) condition that causes generalised pain for no apparent reason. It isn't known how common this condition is in Jamaica but it is apparently the second most common musculoskeletal problem after osteoarthritis. It is probably underdiagnosed, and persons suffering from it may not seek medical attention. It is more common in women than men.

The symptoms of fibromyalgia include widespread muscle and joint pain as well as fatigue. This fatigue may be present after adequate sleep. The muscles may feel strained, may twitch or burn. The joint pains usually involve the neck, back, hips and shoulders and are usually present on both left and right sides and, above and below the waist. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, headache, dry mouth, eyes and nose, lack of concentration, incontinence, hypersensitivity to temperature change, numbness in the extremities and stiffness. The symptoms must be present for at least three months.

painful stimuli

Fibromyalgia may be due to increased sensitisation to painful stimuli. It may develop suddenly after physical or psychological trauma, surgery or infection. It may also develop gradually over time. Fibromyalgia may also be associated with anxiety or depression, memory problems, irritable bowel syndrome, temporo-mandibular joint and sleep disorders. It may run in the family and is more common in persons with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment of fibromyalgia is a challenging task. Pain-relievers such as paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen and tramadol may be used, but often unsuccessfully. Antidepressants may also be used. These include amitriptyline, duloxetine (Cymbalta) and fluoxetine. Anti-seizure medications are also used, such as pregabalin and gabapentin.

Non-medical interventions are also important. Keeping stress minimal is helpful but it is important to stay active and engaged in social activities. Getting enough sleep is also beneficial, as well as exercise. Exercises that aren't stressful on the joints are preferable, such as swimming, water aerobics, cycling and walking. Professional guidance may be necessary. It is advised that those with fibromyalgia eat healthily and limit caffeine intake. Some persons benefit from relaxation techniques, massage therapy, hypnosis, chiropractic treatment and acupuncture.

This condition can be very frustrating and isolating and social support is very important.