Fibromyalgia can be a debilitating and difficult condition to cope with. It affects a small proportion of the population, but for those with the condition it can consume one's entire life just learning to live with the pain.
First, let's start at the beginning and get everyone on the same page with some basics.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition characterized by widespread and diffuse pain throughout the entire body, tenderness to touch, and usually a generalized fatigue. The condition affects mostly women (80-90% of cases), with an onset in adulthood. These patients have often been in pain for a long time with little to no relief, so they become very tired from "pushing through the pain" just to accomplish daily tasks. To the point that fibromyalgia patients frequently report having a hard time maintaining an income because of their illness.
What causes the pain?
Fibromyalgia is commonly misunderstood to be a type of arthritis, but in fact there is no damage/deterioration present in the muscles, joints, or tissues. On first glance, this is frustrating for both patient and diagnostician because despite apparently healthy musculoskeletal tissues, there is still very real pain. (Sadly, for too many fibromyalgia patients, this has meant the "pain was all in your head" and "not real" in days not so recently past. Thank goodness that tragic way of thinking is on it's way out.)
Pain is not the same as tissue damage. Pain is your body's signal that something is wrong, certainly. While damage is the most frequent reason for pain signalling of nerves, it's not the only reason. Pain is merely a signal.
This leads us to a consideration of the nerve system that innervate the muscles, joints, and tissues where the pain is experienced. We are beginning to understand "true" or "classic" fibromyalgia as a state of increased sensitivity to pain in the nervous system.
How the body gets to this state of hyper-sensitivity we are still learning... We have noticed, onset is frequently experienced after a single (or series of) significant traumas. These traumas can be physical and/or mental/emotional. Car accidents and assault/abuse seem to be possible triggers in patient case histories.
How is it diagnosed?
The short answer is: by ruling all other causes of the pain out.
There is no specific test for fibromyalgia. Since there are many causes of pain and often fibromyalgia's symptom profile overlaps with many other conditions - rheumatoid arthritis, multiple points of injury that have turned into chronic pain, or even iron deficiency to name a few.
If your doctor is particularly familiar with fibromyalgia they can make a diagnosis clinically based on the American College of Rheumatology criteria: widespread pain lasting longer than 3 months, additional general symptoms such as fatigue, un-refreshing sleep, and memory/focusing difficulty. They also must consider the number of areas of pain. (http://fmguidelines.ca/)
Given this reality, just getting a correct diagnosis is often an ordeal for many fibromyalgia patients, and it frequently requires many doctors, tests, and a lot of confusion, and unsatisfying answers. It's a difficult journey. That said, getting the diagnosis right is the key to effective pain relief.
The 4 "types" of fibromyalgia.
The latest research describes 4 "types" of fibromyalgia - separated into each group based on the root cause of your symptoms.
Discovering your type (or types) is important because with respect to pain treatment/relief, one size does not fit all. In fact some of the treatments effective for one type make another type worse!
Want To Learn More About The "Types"?
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