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Fibromyalgia: a chronically painful syndrome

Daily living with fibromyalgia can be challenging at times

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome characterized by wide-spread pain, fatigue, specific tender points, and memory and mood issues. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are a number of strategies people can use to make it less disruptive to daily life


There is no definitive answer as to what causes fibromyalgia, although experts think that it may be triggered by emotional or physical trauma in persons who are already predisposed to the condition. Some say that it may be caused by an over-active nervous system or immune reaction. Women are much more likely to develop the condition than men, and it is often linked with anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Fibromyalgia is defined as widespread chronic pain that occurs on both sides of the body and above and below the waistline. The diagnosis includes assessing certain tender points, specific areas of the body that are intensely painful when pressure is applied directly. In order to be classified as fibromyalgia, there must be pain in at least 11 out of the 18 tender points. In addition to the tender points, other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia include mood disorders, chronic fatigue, difficulty sleeping, irritable bowel syndrome, frequent headaches, and endometriosis. There is no specific test that can be done to make a definitive diagnosis; often the diagnosis is made after other issues are ruled out.

There are a number of types of medications prescribed to treat fibromyalgia. These include certain antidepressants that have pain relieving properties. These are effective both because they react with certain pain sensors in the body, plus they can treat the depression and sleep problems that often accompany fibromyalgia. Other medications prescribed may be pain relievers – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as naproxen or ibuprofen, are preferable to opioid medications, such as vicodin, which can have addictive properties. Muscle relaxers also can help with pain and assist with sleep but should generally be taken only at night so as not to add to the daytime fatigue that is common with fibromyalgia.


There are several types of therapy that can help treat fibromyalgia. Acupuncture and massage therapy are beneficial in the short term and long term, as they can relieve pain in one treatment, and, with consistent treatment, can help lower overall average pain levels.

Psychotherapy can help with strategies to learn to work through the pain, including visualization and relaxation techniques, and can assist with depression and anxiety.

Physical therapy and exercise can help relieve pain and stress and improve overall health. When overall health improves, symptoms decrease. Exercise is beneficial in several ways, and, although some days, the fibromyalgia sufferer does not feel like getting out of bed, much less exercise, once you give yourself the push to do it, the improvement in wellness makes it worthwhile.

Self care

For people who have fibromyalgia, it is very important to take an active role in treatment. While fibromyalgia may make a person want to stay in bed all day, this can actually compound symptoms. It is important to learn how other illnesses and emotional stressors intertwine with fibromyalgia. Increased stress, excessive physical exertion or trauma, and viral illnesses can all have an effect on fibromyalgia symptoms. It is important to learn relaxation techniques to use during times of stress. The increase in stress now can have an impact on the physical pain you feel tomorrow. When coming down with a virus, for some people, it is tempting to keep pushing through with daily activities, but people with fibromyalgia should make an effort to get extra rest and eat a healthy diet when coming down with illness, otherwise, the illness can trigger increased fibromyalgia symptoms, which can then increase the intensity of the virus. Taking it easy for a few days can make a difference between having a virus or cold for a few days and having a long-term virus that is followed by a painful fibromyalgia flare up.

Getting the support of loved ones

Fibromyalgia is often misunderstood by people who do not have it. It is difficult to deal with this disorder when others accuse you of being lazy or say things like, “you don’t look sick.” Education can help. There are a variety of resources to help loved ones understand fibromyalgia. There are support groups available in many areas for the patient and the family to learn how to deal with the condition. Some people will never understand, but those who really care about you will often be very understanding once they are educated about the disorder. Loved ones’ support can make a tremendous difference in the well-being of the patient.

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