Today, May 12, 2011, is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. In honor of this day and its significance, I wanted to share 13 facts about the condition. I was diagnosed almost three years ago with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. What is unique about fibromyalgia and what forces it to be a standalone condition is that there are dozens of symptoms and many myths surrounding it. Is it a real disease? Do all sufferers have the same symptoms? Is it curable and/or treatable? I am going to share some facts and myths about the condition because I know there is a lot that most persons know about it.
1. Misconceptions are all around, including among doctors – starting with the belief that the condition is not necessarily real. For sufferers, this means delayed diagnoses, delayed treated and debilitating pain.
2. Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue. People with fibro have tender points in specific places of the neck, back, shoulders, hips, arms and legs. These pressure points hurt when pressure is put on them.
3. People with fibromyalgia have many symptoms. The most common are: Sleep disturbances, morning stiffness, headaches, painful menstrual periods, tingling and numbers in hands and feet, and cognitive problems that result in thinking and memory issues, often called fibro fog.
4. The causes of fibromyalgia are unknown. However, it has been linked to stressful and traumatic events such as auto accidents, illness, certain diseases and repetitive injury.
5. Fibromyalgia can also occur on its own with no known cause.
6. Some scientists believe that there is a gene or multiple genes associated with the condition. These genes react more sensitively to pain in people with the condition. This gene can also point to the reason why multiple family members are affected.
7. Scientists estimate that nearly 5 million American adults are affected by fibromyalgia. 80 to 90 percent are women. However, men and children can also be affected by the disorder. Most people are diagnosed in middle age.
8. People with certain conditions are more likely to have fibromyalgia including those with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus and Ankylosing spondylitis (spinal arthritis).
9. Women who have a family member with fibromyalgia may be more likely to have fibromyalgia themselves.
10. Fibromyalgia is a hard condition to treat. The doctor treating the patient must be familiar with the disorder and its treatment options. Family doctors, general internists and rheumatologists can treat the condition provided they are knowledgeable about it.
11. Fibromyalgia treatment requires a team approach method. This means that you medical team will not just include your doctor, but also other specialists such as physical therapists, chiropractors, pain specialists, and mental health specialists, depending a patient’s medical needs.
12. Patients need to focus on multiple methods to feeling better. These include: taking medications as prescribed, getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well and making work changes if necessary.
13. There is a lot of new research being done to help understand fibromyalgia and better ways of treating it, diagnosing it and even preventing it. Current research includes: finding out why some people are more sensitive to pain than others, improved and new medication and behavioral treatments, gene research on why some people get fibro and others don’t, imaging studies (i.e. MRIs) to better understand fibro, inflammation studies and how they relate to fibro, nondrug therapies, and methods to help people with fibro get improved sleep.
Few people are prepared when it comes to fibromyalgia and family members are generally taken aback by a new diagnosis. For fibromyalgia patients, living and dealing with a new and painful diagnosis can be lonely and frightening and with all the myths out there about fibro, patients can have a hard time getting people, including family members, to believe them. The best that family members can offer to a fibro patient is find out all they can about the condition and what their role in helping that family member get back a normal life and to learn to live with and manage a life with fibromyalgia. It is possible but it is not an easy process. It involves a lot of work and a lot of support.
Some of this information is from my own knowledge and some from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) page.