Fibromyalgia is a condition characterised by chronic widespread body pains and increased responsiveness to pressure. Women are at a higher risk of suffering from this disorder than men. Fibromyalgia can be treated with physiotherapy, pharmacotherapy and combined efforts of physician and the patient.
Some of the symptoms that characterize this disorder are:
- Pain: Fibromyalgia is characterized by pain that has no apparent reason. It can affect different parts of the body and presents itself in different ways. Some people may experience a stabbing pain while others complain of a persistent dull ache. This pain may be affected by climate changes or stressful situations. There is reduced threshold to pain, because of certain chemical ( neurotransmitters) abnormalities in brain. Pain is generalized, felt above and below the waist, right and left-side of body, arms, legs, neck and back.
- Abnormal Sensitivity: Fibromyalgia patients are extremely sensitive to environmental changes that involve sight, sound and smell. For example, cigarette smoke can make a fibromyalgia patient extremely nauseous while loud music can give the person an instant headache. Lights that are brighter than normal can also make such a person feel uncomfortable. Patients have an abnormal sensitivity to pain, which leads to generalized aching of the body and tender points.
- Muscle & Joint Stiffness: Fibromyalgia patients often experience stiff muscles and joints without any form of strenuous activity or other reason. This may be localised to one group of muscles or affect the whole body. For some patients, this pain is worse in the morning or when sitting for extended periods of time. However, moving around does not provide any significant relief.
- Chronic fatigue and exhaustion: There are two main reasons for a fibromyalgia patient to complain of tiredness. Firstly, the condition itself drains a person of energy even without overexerting themselves. Secondly, the pain and joint stiffness can hamper a person’s sleep and lead to sleep deprivation. Over time, this can become a vicious cycle of tiredness and insomnia. Chronic fatigue also affects a person’s immune system causing his or her energy levels to drop.
- Cognitive impairments: Fibromyalgia patients also complain of a compromised short term memory. They often face difficulties recalling names of people they have recently met or other newly acquired information. These people may also have trouble concentrating on tasks for extended periods of time and experience mental sluggishness also known as fibro-fog.
- Irritable bowel syndrome: Bowel disturbance is another common symptom of this disease. Passing stool may become difficult due to a combination of pain and muscle stiffness. With time, this problem can worsen unless addressed with laxatives. However, an over-dependence on laxatives can lead to further problems.
- Somatic Symptoms: Apart from pain, patient experiences unrefreshing sleep and fatigue throughout the day. Other associated features can be depression, abdominal cramps, chest pain, tingling.
- Lab Tests: Fibromyalgia is a clinical diagnosis. There are no definite laboratory tests. In fact, most conducted tests will turn out to be normal.
Treatment: Foremost important is an education of patient and caregivers, regarding nature of the disease. The patient needs to indulge in recreational activities and undergo supervised physiotherapy. There are potent medicines to correct the chemical imbalance in the body thereby increasing the pain threshold and leading to better quality of life.