“Are you really hurting?”
“Come on, you can’t hurt that bad.”
“It’s all in your head!”
“It doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with you!”
Unfortunately, these are common things heard by patients from family, friends, and even doctors when they try explaining their symptoms of a chronic pain called fibromyalgia. Living with chronic pain when the rest of the world looks at you as completely normal and healthy can not only be frustrating, but depressing. Having fibromyalgia can make even the most mundane things, like walking up stairs or folding clothes, seem like a tall, uncomfortable and painful task. While more money has gone towards research over the last decade, fibromyalgia is still a relative mystery. Let’s take a moment and talk about what we do know, though, because there are many who are suffering through this condition - maybe for years - that do not even know it yet.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by musculoskeletal pain all over the body. This pain can be described as broadly as being a dull aching to pain described as debilitating. It is a condition that also is accompanied by fatigue, the feeling that you can’t get enough sleep, memory problems, and even mood issues. In reality, the term fibromyalgia refers to a set of symptoms that are concurrent but not necessarily interrelated. The term and condition had been the subject of intense debate over the last few decades, as doctors and researchers have differed over the legitimacy of the condition as well as the root cause of the condition. Generally, though, it has become a widely accepted condition that doctors now say impact over 4 million people in the United States.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is one of the mysteries of the medical world, as doctors and researchers have yet to gain a relative understanding of the root causes of the condition. It is incredibly difficult to diagnose with confidence, as each of the individual symptoms could be related to other, unrelated illnesses. As such, it makes it very difficult to conduct research toward the discovery of such, meaning the creation of a legitimate testing method is still a long way off.
Some research has pointed to possible genetic differences in the way the brain processes electrical pain signals. It can be described as one having an overactive nervous system, where people who suffer from fibromyalgia seem to have pain sensitive neurotransmitters that are more reactive than in other people. Thus, even small pain feels greatly amplified.
In addition, there is some credence given to the idea that the symptoms of fibromyalgia are triggered by a physical trauma, a surgery, an infection, and even an emotional or psychologically traumatic event. Again, the unfortunate reality is that these thoughts are non-conclusive. Another unfortunate truth regarding fibromyalgia is that it seems to prefer affecting women at a much higher rate than men.
What are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
In the absence of a reliable test, doctors must rely on the described symptoms by the patient in order to arrive at fibromyalgia as the likely cause. In fact, many patients arrive at a diagnosis of fibromyalgia by taking tests that show the symptoms aren’t presenting themselves from other illnesses or conditions.
The most common symptom experienced with this condition is widespread chronic pain. This pain is hard to localize and presents itself in the muscle, bones, or joints. The pain has been described as a ‘ghost’ or ‘invisible’ pain, as the cause of it can’t be seen on an X-ray or MRI and it doesn’t produce swelling or inflammation like arthritis. However, the pain is real, and it is there. It is because of this, though, that doctors in the past have dismissed the patient’s pain as psychological and therefore something to get over.
Another symptom of fibromyalgia involves cognitive problems. Patients describe this condition as being in a sort of ‘fog’, lending to a tendency to forget things and experiencing a lack of concentration. Fatigue is also a very common symptom fibromyalgia sufferers experience. Regardless of the amount of sleep one gets at night, or even with naps during the day, some people dealing with fibromyalgia stay in a constant state of exhaustion. Patients have described it as feeling like a straw was stuck in them and all the energy was sucked out. Even getting up from the couch can have the muscular effect of feeling like you’ve just run a 10K.
As if these conditions weren’t enough, the following conditions often coexist with fibromyalgia:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Migraines and other types of headaches
- Painful Bladder Syndrome
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorders
How Can I Treat Fibromyalgia?
As you can see, the totality of effects that fibromyalgia sufferers endure can create for a very difficult life that is constantly disrupted, making it difficult to live the life you want to live. Unfortunately, as researchers haven’t cracked the neurological and musculoskeletal code where the cause of fibromyalgia likely exists, there is no known cure or universally accepted treatment plan. This does not mean, though, that you should not see a doctor regarding your conditions. In fact, fibromyalgia should be treated by a doctor and preferably one who specializes in this condition or other types of arthritis. Most effective strategies for treatment deal with symptom and pain management, using some mixture of medications, physical activities and exercise, and different types of cognitive and talk therapy.
When Should I Seek Help?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions above on a regular basis, you should schedule an appointment immediately. The goal in life should be to live your best life possible, and that starts when your condition is diagnosed and treatment begins. Unfortunately, there are too many women living with this condition that are settled with it just being their “burden to bear”. This doesn’t have to be the case! Living with chronic pain is no way to live. Contact The Woman’s Clinic today to make an appointment with our excellent health care providers and let us help you find the relief you desperately need and deserve from fibromyalgia.