More and more people seem to be afflicted with it these days, but just what IS this growing and painful affliction known as «fibromyalgia»?
Well, according to information put out last year by doctors at The Mayo Clinic, it is «a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues». Researchers believe that it causes amplified feelings of pain throughout the body by affecting the way that your brain interprets and processes pain signals. They suspect that repeated nerve stimulation in people with fibromyalgia causes the brain to change through an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (known as neurotransmitters). Additionally, the brain’s pain receptors seem to develop a kind of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals. It is also known that women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men.
Many of the people who have fibromyalgia also have problems like tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (otherwise referred to as TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression. Other symptoms (in addition to feelings of widespread pain) also include things like fatigue, impaired cognitive functions and frequent pain or cramping in the lower abdomen.
So what causes this debilitating affliction? Doctors are still not exactly sure. They generally agree, however, that it is most likely a combination of things working together. For example, they have learned that «fibro» runs in families. Therefore, genetics may be involved. There may be some kind of genetic mutation that can make you more likely to develop the disorder. Infections or illness may also play a part as doctors have found that certain kinds appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia. Post-traumatic stress disorder or other emotional trauma has also been linked to fibromyalgia.
How do you determine if what you have is fibro? These days, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia can be made if a person has had widespread pain for more than three months with no other underlying medical condition that could cause it. And, while there are currently no lab tests that can specifically diagnose fibromyalgia, your doctor may want to test your blood in order to rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms. They will also determine what treatments they can provide you in order to help you better cope with the pain,
In addition to the pain, you may also have to face the frustration of having a condition that is considered «invisible» and often misunderstood by your loved ones and friends. So, in addition to learning more about fibromyalgia yourself, you may find it to be helpful to also provide the information to your family, friends and co-workers.
Most of all, know that you are not alone. Organizations such as the National Fibromyalgia Association and the American Chronic Pain Association will help you to learn about fibro. Also, Facebook groups like «Chronic Pain Survivors Unite» and «Friends Because We Have Fibro… » will put you directly in contact with other people who can relate, understand and support you in what you are going through. Perhaps, someday, medical researchers will find a cure for fibromyalgia. But, until then, all you can do is treat the symptoms and find the support that you need.