What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia (fibro) is a chronic rheumatic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain (often worst upon wakening), fatigue/sleep disturbance, psychological distress and tenderness in localized areas. It is a syndrome (set of symptoms or conditions that occur together without a specific cause or causes) rather than a disease (a medical condition defined by specific symptoms and an identifiable cause). Due to the wide variation in symptomology, fibro goes undiagnosed (or misdiagnosed) for years (on average 5-6 years). There is no laboratory test available to aid diagnosis so physicians must be familiar with the symptoms of fibro and rely on patient histories, thorough physical examinations and trigger point analysis (with pain occurring at at least 11 of the 18 fibro points).
Symptoms of fibro vary from person to person but generally include, but are not limited to:
- Widespread pain (in varying locations and degrees of intensity)
- Muscle stiffness/tension
- Sleep disturbance (lack of restorative, or stage IV sleep) and chronic fatigue
- Painful trigger points
- Numbness, tingling and/or burning
- Irritable bowel and/or bladder
- Impaired memory/concentration
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Hypersensitivity to cold and/or heat
- Restless leg syndrome
What is “fibro fog?”
Fibro fog is a term used to describe a set of cognitive symptoms experienced by fibro patients that is often described as being in a haze. Fibro fog and its symptoms can vary from mild to extreme and may occur intermittently. Overstimulation, stress, poor sleep, and certain medications can cause them to worsen. Symptoms of fibro fog can include:
- memory difficulties
- decreased alertness
- inability to focus/stay focused
- lack of concentration
There are several medications available to assist with pain management such as Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella. Non-narcotic pain relievers, lidocaine injections and low doses of tricyclic or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidpressants are also used to treat fibro pain. Consistent sleep regiments combined with one of the many sleep aid medications can help with both pain and fatigue. Other treatments for fibro can include physical therapy, therapeutic massage, myofascial release therapy, water therapy, light aerobics, acupressure, application of heat or cold, acupuncture, yoga, relaxation exercises, breathing techniques, aromatherapy, cognitive therapy, biofeedback, herbs, nutritional supplements, and osteopathic or chiropractic manipulation. Stress management, relaxation techniques, individual and group therapy and medications for depression and anxiety can significantly reduce the emotional disturbances experienced by fibro sufferers.