By Melodie Veldhuizen
What is fibromyalgia?
Fybromyalgia is the second most common illness that affects your bones and muscles. Yet it is an illness that is often not understood and difficult to diagnose. Medical professionals are uncertain about what precisely causes it, but most likely it has to do with the way in which pain signals are conveyed. When a person is injured, the nerve signals from the sore spot/wound are conveyed through the spinal cord to the brain. The brain observes the signals as pain. When the sore spot/wound heals, the pain disappears. Fibromyalgia sufferers however remain in constant pain, regardless of whether there is an injury or illness or not. This pain never goes away.
What causes fibromyalgia?
- Genes: You might have inherited genes from one or both your parents that make you more sensitive to pain. Other genes could possibly lead to anxiety and depression, that could aggravate pain.
- Other illnesses, such as arthritis or an infection, increase your chance of contracting fibromyalgia.
- Emotional or physical abuse: Abused children have a greater chance of becoming fibromyalgia sufferers as adults. It could be due to the abuse influencing the way in which the brain handles pain and stress.
- Post-traumatic stress disfunction (PTSD) after a traumatic incident such as a serious traffic accident.
- Emotional disturbances such as anxiety or depression can also cause fibromyalgia, although there is no proof to support this.
- Gender: More women than men suffer from fibromyalgia. It could be related to the different ways in which women and men experience pain and react to it and how society expects them to react to pain.
- Too little exercise and movement. Fibromyalgia occurs quite commonly in people who are not physically active. That is why exercise is one of the best ways to control fibromyalgia.
- Every muscle and bone in your body ache. The pain can feel like osteoarthritis, bursitis or tendonitis, but instead of the pain and stiffness occurring in one specific spot only, you experience it through your entire body.
Other general symptoms:
- Low pain threshold or sensitive nerve ends
- Exhaustion that drains you
- Concentration or memory problems, also known as ‘fibro fog’
- Insomnia or not sleeping well
- Nervousness, worry or depression
- Stomach pain,bloatedness, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea
- Dry mouth, nose, eyes
- Sensitivity to cold, heat, light and sound
- The frequent need to urinate
- Feeling of numbness or a prickly feeling in your face, arms, hands, legs or feet
Your doctor will examine you thoroughly and enquire about your medical history, such as other medical conditions which you or your next of kind suffer/ed from. There are no tests to confirm fibromyalgia. Because the symptoms are closely identical to those of other illnesses such as an underactive thyroid, various types of arthritis and lupus, you doctor will send you for blood tests and x-rays to test for inflammation as well as to test your hormone levels, to eliminate the possibility of these illnesses. If he cannot determine any reason for your constant pain, he will by way of a dual measuring system determine how wide-spread your pain is and to what extent it influences your daily life. With this information, together you can work out a treatment plan.
Depending on the symptoms, your doctor might prescribe pain-killers, anti-depressants, muscle relaxants, and sleeping tablets. Some pain-killers that you can obtain without prescription might also help. There is stronger medication as well that will alleviate pain in the long run, but it can be habit-forming.
Regular, moderate exercise is recommended for the control of fibromyalgia. Low-impact exercises that improve stamina, stretch your muscles and improve your ability to move easier, are ideal. These include exercises such as Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates and even walking. Exercise releases endorphins that combat pain and tension, improve your mood and help you to sleep better. A healthy lifestyle is furthermore recommended to help alleviate symptoms.
Should nothing else help, you could consider therapy such as massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic manipulation – these can all help to alleviate pain as well as stress.
A counsellor, therapist or support group can also help you to handle emotions that accompany this illness, and help you to explain your ‘condition’ to others.