Nearly everyone has heard of arthritis. It is an ailment associated with the aging process, and it is a health issue that most people accept as just something that happens as you grow old. Most people ask what is fibromyalgia, because it is less common, but is another ailment that tends to present as people age.
Some of the symptoms are already commonly associated with the aging process. This is perhaps why it is less well known – it is difficult to tell the difference between fibromyalgia symptoms and simply growing older.
Identifying when a patient has fibromyalgia remains a unique challenge. It cannot be cured; just as other aging ailments are not curable. However, the medical profession has been researching ways to reduce the pain and discomfort associated with fibromyalgia.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a rheumatic ailment associated with adulthood (though there are some children who suffer from it). Rheumatic conditions are ones that result in pain in the sufferer’s soft tissue or myofascial pain.
Fibromyalgia certainly is not a new ailment, but it is not widely understood. It is classed as both syndrome and a disorder. With a variety of unmeasurable symptoms, it is often misdiagnosed. There are even medical professionals that do not believe that it is a real ailment. This can further compound the problem of sufferers as it downplays their pain, which can lead to depression.
It has been gaining recognition and is currently recognized by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Like osteoporosis, fibromyalgia disproportionately affects women. Of the estimated 5 million American adults with the disease, between 80 and 90 percent were women.
What Are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
The symptoms of fibromyalgia are so generic that it can be very difficult to diagnose. Everyone has a different experience with it, and the symptoms do not always present. Just as someone with arthritis can have good days and bad days, a fibromyalgia patient may not hurt for days at a time.
The broad symptoms of this condition include the following:
- Aching all over the body for at least three months. The pain is not in the same place. Instead, you experience a dull ache in different parts of your body over the course of months.
- Patients are constantly fatigued even if they keep a regular sleep schedule or sleep for longer durations. They typically develop sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, which further disrupts their sleep. This contributes further to the feelings of fatigue.
- A loss of cognitive abilities affecting the sufferer’s ability to focus or pay attention.
- Depression or anxiety can be present, though this could be a result of dealing with the constant pain and decline of the mind and body.
All of these symptoms are already associated with aging, which is what can make it so difficult to isolate the problem as fibromyalgia. There are accompanying problems that are frequently present with the fibromyalgia symptoms:
- Tension headaches and migraines
- Digestive issues, including irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, and constipation
- Temporomandibular joint disorders
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
One of the reasons that fibromyalgia has been gaining more acceptance in the medical community is because of thecomplications associated with it. Someone suffering from the condition is more likely to experience additional problems, lowering their quality of life.
- Hospitalization is twice as likely for fibromyalgia patients.
- Fibromyalgia sufferers are three times more likely to experience major depression.
- An increased risk of suicide or early death is seen in these patients. They are also at greater risk of injuries.
- Fibromyalgia is often accompanied by other rheumatic problems, such as arthritis.
Are There Known Causes?
The primary contributor to fibromyalgia is aging. Women are also at a much higher risk. However, people who experience different types of trauma are more likely to have fibromyalgia. Trauma can be from an accident, abuse, or event. For example, people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are at risk of developing fibromyalgia. Obesity, viral infections, and repetitive injuries all seem to be contributing factors, though the link is still being researched to determine if they are risk factors.
There are also some apparent genetic links. So far, the medical community has not been able to determine a definite pattern to inherit the condition. If you are a child or sibling of someone with fibromyalgia, you are eight times more likely to develop it.
Managing the Condition
There is no cure for this problem, just as there is no cure for arthritis or gout. It is something you will live with for the rest of your life, but that doesn’t mean you are helpless.
Some medicines offer a way to manage pain and depression. It is best to consult a physician to see what medicines are right for your individual problems. There are risks associated with most of the drugs on the market.
Lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the pain and help the mental state of patients.
Increases in activity has shown some positive results for sufferers. By being active for about 150 minutes every week (30 minutes a day) helps the mind, as well as increasing the chance that the sufferer will be tired enough to sleep better at night.
Initial success has also been seen through other traditional alternative treatments:
- Healthy diet
- Massage and/or physical therapy
Medical professionals, such as chiropractors in Anchorage, are actively working to minimize the ailments that primarily present as people age. Research is still ongoing for most solutions as the condition gains acceptance.
The following studies are currently being conducted to find alternatives to medication:
- The effects of traditional Chinese medicine
- A comparison between tai chi and aerobic exercise
- The effect placebos have on sufferers
As it gains more recognition within the medical community, the stigma associated with fibromyalgia is disappearing. This alone can benefit patients as industry professionals seek to help them instead of dismissing the complaints. There is still a long way to go to fully understand the ailment, but progress is being made to help sufferers cope with the recurring pain.
About Dr. Brent Wells
Having earned his Bachelor of Science at the University of Nevada, and his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College, Dr. Brent Wells found his professional passion fairly early in his career. Instead of simply treating his patients, Dr. Wells strives to help everyone to understand how a few basic changes in habit result in better health. This passion was realized when he founded the Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998.Personal experience has given him as much (if not more insight) into what it is like to deal with other healthcare professionals. Aiming for a more personal approach, his care comes from compassion and a desire to provide the best care. Instead of treating just the problem, his goal is to offer patients a better quality of life.