What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic disorder that causes amplified musculoskeletal pain, and is often confused with arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. FM mostly impacts women with symptoms appearing between the ages of 20 and 50. Although less common, men, teenagers and children can also have FM.
What is the cause?
Although the cause(s) of FM remains unknown. Some people develop symptoms for no apparent cause and some begin to experience symptoms following a traumatic experience (ie. accident, emotional trauma, viral disease).
Although we don’t know the cause, we do know the main mechanism believed to be behind FM is increased sensitivity of pain sensors in the nervous system within the brain. Although FM does cause an increase in pain, there is no permanent damage to any muscle or joints like there is in other diseases. In addition to abnormal pain signalling, many other factors could be contributing to the amplified musculoskeletal pain. Some of these factors include chemical imbalances throughout the body and in the brain, genetics, recent infections or operations, and any excessive amounts of stress. For more information on FM, please visit The Arthritis Society.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Aside from widespread musculoskeletal pain, there are a number of other symptoms to look out for when dealing with FM. It is important to mention, symptoms vary from one person to another and can change from day to day or even hour to hour.
Some symptoms include:
- Increased sensitivity to pain, especially with stimuli that shouldn’t normally cause pain
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Cognitive impairment, often called “Fibro-fog” (lack of concentration or memory issues)
- Headaches or migraines
For a more indepth list of symptoms please visit The NHS (UK).
How is fibromyalgia treated and managed?
FM is not a disease that can be treated directly. Until recently, it was very difficult for people to get a diagnosis. FM is managed by treating each individual symptom. Treatment is usually lead by a combination of rheumatologists, neurologists, and psychologists. Common treatments include painkillers, antidepressants, sleeping aid medications, cognitive behavioural therapy, and psychotherapy. Additionally, massage therapy, and acupuncture are commonly used by patients to relieve some of the pain. Every treatment plan is going to be different, every case of FM is unique and some of the treatment and management methods may work for some patients while not working for others. Thus, it is important to listen to your body and find out what works best for you. Pain relief is the main goal of treating FM, for information and techniques on how to minimize pain, look at this article created by Healthline.
There is good news for individuals awaiting diagnosis and recognition of their suffering. The National Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Action Network recently announced there is now a consensus in Canada regarding the clinical definition and treatment of fibromyalgia. This means that all general practitioners and rheumatologists in the country have access to the tools necessary for making an official diagnosis and treating fibromyalgia, as well as chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis.
What type of physician treats FM?
If you have symptoms that lead you to think you may have FM, it is very important to articulate what you are experiencing with your rheumatologist. However, not all rheumatologists are familiar with fibromyalgia.
How does MF impact daily living?
FM can impact your ability to do daily activities such as work, take care of children or do simple household chores or preparing meals because of the pain or lack of energy. You may feel you have to limit them.
For some individuals, these changes or limitations are very stressful, and can make you feel anxious, depressed and more stressed. In person, or on-line, support groups can help FM sufferers feel less isolated. There is therapeutic value in sharing your experience with others who are in the same situation and who can listen, relate and provide support and encouragement.
Where to find additional information and support?
The Toronto Fibro support group has some excellent resources on their website. Additionally, for individuals living in Ontario, there are several in-person support groups. We encourage you to visit their website @ https://www.torontofibrosupport.com/
The FM-CFS Canada also lists a number of different support groups across the country. A full list can be found here http://fm-cfs.ca/support/
Fibromyalgia Canada also has a facebook group with over 4,000 members that may be a resource to engage in conversation.
Content credited to:
The Arthritis Society