Officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) since 1992, fibromyalgia is also known as fibrositis or fibromyositis. This illness mainly affects women and is as pervasive as rheumatic arthritis. Fibromyalgia is characterized, first and foremost by pain in the muscles, tendons and ligaments (the body's fibrous tissues). Added to these symptoms are overwhelming fatigue and loss of energy. In fact, fibromyalgia is quite similar to chronic fatigue syndrome.
To date, the causes of fibromyalgia are not known. It has been observed however, that fibromyalgia often occurs after a trauma such as a fall, car accident, difficult delivery or surgery. Certain diseases can predispose individuals to fibromyalgia including viral or bacterial infections. Also, psychological stress and insufficient or excessive physical activity tend to aggravate the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.
The chief symptoms of fibromyalgia are generalized, widespread pain or a burning sensation from head to toe. Pain intensity varies greatly and primarily affects the neck, shoulders, abdomen, lower back and thighs. Certain areas, or tender points, are more sensitive to touch. Persons with fibromyalgia also suffer from sleep disturbances. Sleep is no longer refreshing and deep, leading to fatigue and loss of energy. Morning stiffness can also occur. And, finally, fibromyalgia can also lead to:
- Tingling (feet, hand)
- Mood changes
- Muscle spasms
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Fibromyalgia is an illness that requires a medical diagnosis. Given that its symptoms closely resemble those of other diseases, it may be difficult for physicians to identify fibromyalgia after only one visit. It is important that the physician make sure that there is nothing else behind the various symptoms. A few tests may be required to rule out other illnesses. Nevertheless, a fibromyalgia diagnosis can be made based on these criteria:
- Absence of another health problem that could explain the pain;
- Generalized pain for at least 3 consecutive months;
- Test of 19 potentially sensitive points and analysis of the severity of fatigue, sleeping disorders and cognitive symptoms.
Before any treatment, good health habits are essentials:
- do weak impact physical activity or aquatic exercises;
- maintain good sleeping habits;
- acquire good eating habits and a healthy weight;
- avoid tobacco, alcohol and caffeine excess.
When it comes to treating fibromyalgia, we must treat the symptoms rather than the illness itself. A combination of several methods is therefore used: cardiovascular exercises, cognitive behavioural therapy (suitable psychotherapy) and education about the disease showed efficacy to improve the symptoms.
Physicians can also prescribe medications. Anti-depressants help reduce tension, relieve pain, improve sleep and treat mood disorders sometimes associated with fibromyalgia. Muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medications, opiods (medication related to morphine) and lidocaine in cream may also be administered to relieve pain.
For more information or for support :
The Arthritis Society