May 12, 2022

The Complete Story Behind Fibromyalgia

Written by: Omnia Tantawi, MSc

“I only get one life, and I will not let fibromyalgia take the joy from living it.” —Morgan Freeman. 

Following in the brave steps of Mr. Freeman are many other celebrities like Lady Gaga, Mary McDonough, Kyle Richards, Rosie Hamlin, and Michael James Hastings, to only name a few who suffer from Fibromyalgia and refuse to give into it.

As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts it, Fibromyalgia is a chronic health condition characterized by pain all over the body resulting in insomnia, trouble sleeping, constant tiredness, and fatigue— finally leading to a significant decrease in the quality of life of its patients.1

While the reason behind Fibromyalgia remains unknown, it is believed to have started due to the involvement of the nervous system.2

 

Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia

Back in 1990, when Fibromyalgia was first diagnosed, they tested patients for specific tender points which are:3

  • Front of the lower neck
  • Upper breast
  • Arm near the elbow
  • Knee
  • Skull base
  • Hip bone
  • Outer buttock
  • Back of Shoulders

If the doctor presses on these tender points and the patient feels pain, then a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia is made.

Generally, it’s not known why exactly these points will cause pain in patients, but it’s hypothesized that it goes back to the main cause of the disease, which is nerves and muscle spasms. 

This is best quoted by Dr. John Dombrowski, an anesthesiologist at The Washington Pain Center.

“When muscles get spasms [involuntary contractions], they tend to have a lack of oxygen and blood. That lack of oxygen and buildup of acid and carbon dioxide causes more pain in the muscles, which causes greater spasms, and it’s a vicious cycle.” Why do muscles have spasms in the first place? “We still don’t know the reason for these spasms and increased sensitivities,” he says. “But what’s causing the pain is a cyclical event.”4

Nevertheless, these diagnostic criteria should be flexible enough to include patients who suffer from multifocal pain despite the strict specificities of these 11 points, as it might differ from one patient to another.5

 

Signs and Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

According to the German Fibromyalgia Association, there are a set of signs and symptoms to typically consider, these are summarized as the following:

  • Chronic widespread pain, 
  • Non-restorative sleep 
  • Subjective disabilities. 

 

They also considered that the high frequency of general and extra-musculoskeletal symptoms proves that Fibromyalgia is not just a pain disorder; it’s much more severe than that.6

 

The CDC lists the following additional symptoms that may encounter by someone with Fibromyalgia:7

  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Tingling 
  • Numbness
  • Difficulty thinking, memorizing and concentrating (also known as Fibromyalgia Fog)
  • Digestive problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

 

What Causes Fibromyalgia to Flare Up?

To study the causes of a Fibromyalgia flare-up, a study was conducted on 44 patients of different sexes and racial backgrounds. They described flare-ups and fibromyalgia triggers as being more painful and debilitating than the disease itself.8

This study revealed several causes with its frequencies to determine the exact cause of these flare-ups, here’s what the scientists found out:

  • ‘Stress’ 
  • ‘Overdoing it’ 
  • ‘Poor sleep’ 
  • ‘Weather changes’ 

So, with this scientific explanation, we can advise Fibromyalgia patients to do the following in order to avoid Fibromyalgia flare-ups:

  • Learn to manage stress
  • Don’t overexert yourself in manual labor
  • Sleep and have enough rest
  • Be prepared for seasons and weather changes 

 

Risk Factors of Fibromyalgia

The risk factors that cause Fibromyalgia can be divided into both genetic and environmental factors; these are:7

 

Genetic Factors

  • Sex (Females are more likely to suffer from Fibromyalgia than males)
  • Family history

 

Environmental Factors

  • Age (As you get older, you’re more likely at risk of Fibromyalgia)
  • Obesity
  • Other underlying medical conditions 
  • Associated infections
  • Traumatic events (ex. Car accidents, dramatic stressful events in the past)
  • Injuries

 

Treatment of Fibromyalgia

Since scientists haven’t pinpointed the exact cause of Fibromyalgia, treatment efforts usually revolve around management techniques and pain relief medications, these include:9

 

Non-Pharmacological therapies

  • Patient education about the condition and how to effectively manage it
  • Regular exercising (with a focus on building muscles and making them stronger)
  • Implementing better sleeping habits
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy to address any mental and emotional distress caused by the disease
  • Physical therapy

 

Pharmacological therapies 

  • Tricyclics, 
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors,  
  • Gabapentinoids

These are all fancy names for medications your doctor will prescribe for you that will help manage and treat the pain associated with Fibromyalgia.

Additionally, there are several alternative medical methods to deal with Fibromyalgia like:10

  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnosis
  • Natural Foods and Herbs
  • Yoga and massages (for decreasing stress)

 

To Sum Up

Fibromyalgia is often called the ‘invisible disease’ owing to its fairly common symptoms with many other health conditions. It often goes unnoticed, making its patients depressed and unable to deal with the symptoms.

The good news is, with the recent findings in the literature and advancing treatments, there’s great hope in one day treating and eradicating all the taxing symptoms of Fibromyalgia. 

The most important thing to focus on is having a positive attitude and never getting bored of trying all the possible options for managing the symptoms until you reach the best method that makes you good and well. Remember, it’s a process.

Morgan Freeman had it right from the start, it’s just a disease, and it doesn’t control you.

Change your perspective to be able to change your outcome!

 

References

  1. CDC. Fibromyalgia | Arthritis | CDC [Internet]. [cited 2022 May 6]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/fibromyalgia.htm
  2. Fibromyalgia [Internet]. [cited 2022 May 6]. Available from: https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Fibromyalgia
  3. Galvez-Sánchez CM, del Paso GAR. Diagnostic Criteria for Fibromyalgia: Critical Review and Future Perspectives. Journal of Clinical Medicine [Internet]. 2020 Apr 1 [cited 2022 May 7];9(4). Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC7230253/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32340369/
  1. Fibromyalgia Tender Points: What and Where Are They? [Internet]. [cited 2022 May 7]. Available from: https://creakyjoints.org/about-arthritis/fibromyalgia/fibromyalgia-overview/fibromyalgia-tender-points/
  2. Clauw DJ. Fibromyalgia: An Overview. The American Journal of Medicine. 2009 Dec 1;122(12):S3–13. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002934309008237
  1. Häuser W, Zimmer C, Felde E, Köllner V. [What are the key symptoms of fibromyalgia? Results of a survey of the German Fibromyalgia Association]. Schmerz [Internet]. 2008 Apr 1 [cited 2022 May 7];22(2):176–83. Available from: https://europepmc.org/article/med/18210165
  2. Fibromyalgia | Arthritis | CDC [Internet]. [cited 2022 May 7]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/fibromyalgia.htm
  3. Vincent A, Whipple MO, Rhudy LM. Fibromyalgia Flares: A Qualitative Analysis. Pain Medicine [Internet]. 2016 Mar 1 [cited 2022 May 7];17(3):463–8. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/17/3/463/1888231
  4. Clauw DJ. Fibromyalgia: A Clinical Review. JAMA [Internet]. 2014 Apr 16 [cited 2022 May 7];311(15):1547–55. Available from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1860480
  5. Fibromyalgia - American Family Physician [Internet]. [cited 2022 May 7]. Available from: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0715/p247.html

 

Article written by Omnia Tantawi, MSc
Omnia is an Assistant Lecturer and Medical Researcher from Egypt. She’s an integral part in many research projects that proved promising in revolutionizing the future of Medicine. As a Research Scholar, she’s particularly interested in Personalized & Molecular Medicine because she believes that this is the prospect of the healthcare industry and can be applied to all medical and pharmaceutical specializations. But at heart she remains a wordsmith, so she currently works as a Medical Writer. This transition was fairly easy with an Academic Medical background, ability to adapt to different audiences and passion for research and creation. She always takes the most complex or mundane topics and turn it into a must-read with an unparalleled style. In her free time, she likes to read books, tunes in Netflix or enjoys the outdoors.

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