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Alternative namesFibromyositis; Fibrositis; Myofascial pain syndrome
Fibromyalgia is a common condition characterized by widespread pain in joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. Some other problems commonly linked with fibromyalgia include fatigue, morning stiffness, sleep problems, headaches, numbness in hands and feet, depression, and anxiety. Fibromyalgia can develop on its own, or secondary to other musculoskeletal conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, or systemic lupus.
Diagnosis of fibromyalgia requires a history of a least three months of widespread pain, and pain and tenderness in at least 11 of 18 tender-point sites. These tender-point sites include fibrous tissue or muscles of the:
The overwhelming characteristic of fibromyalgia is long-standing, body-wide pain with defined tender points. Tender points are distinct from trigger points seen in other pain syndromes. (Unlike tender points, trigger points can occur in isolation and represent a source of radiating pain, even in the absence of direct pressure.)
Fibromyalgia pain can mimic the pain experienced by people with various types of arthritis. With fibromyalgia syndrome alone, the significant joint swelling, destruction, and deformity seen in patients with diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis does not occur.
The soft-tissue pain of fibromyalgia is described as deep-aching, radiating, gnawing, shooting or burning, and ranges from mild to severe. Fibromyalgia sufferers tend to waken with body aches and stiffness.
For some patients, pain improves during the day and increases again during the evening, though many patients with fibromyalgia have day-long, unrelenting pain. Pain can increase with activity; cold, damp weather; anxiety; and stress.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The cause of this disorder is unknown. Physical or emotional trauma may play a role in development of the syndrome. A number of lines of evidence suggest that fibromyalgia patients have abnormal pain transmission responses.
It has been suggested that sleep disturbances, which are common in fibromyalgia patients, may actually cause the condition. Another hypothesis suggests that the disorder may be associated with changes in skeletal muscle metabolism, possibly caused by decreased blood flow, which could cause chronic fatigue and weakness.
Others have suggested that an infectious microbe, such as a virus, triggers the illness. At this point, no such virus or microbe has been identified.
Pilot studies have shown a possible inherited tendency toward the disease, though evidence is very preliminary.
The disorder has an increased frequency among women 20 to 50 years old. The prevalence of the disease has been estimated between 0.7% and 13% for women, and between 0.2% and 3.9% for men.
Signs and tests
A number of tests may be done to rule out other disorders. An examination reveals multiple tender areas on the back of the neck, shoulders, sternum, lower back, hip, shin, elbows, or knees.
Sometimes, laboratory and X-ray tests are done to help confirm the diagnosis. The tests will also rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms.
Other underlying ailments, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis, can also be present. New patients should be checked for these underlying conditions as well as fibromyalgia.
In mild cases, symptoms may go away when stress is decreased or lifestyle changes are implemented. A combination of treatments including medications, patient education, physical therapy, and counseling are usually recommended. Many fibromyalgia sufferers have found support groups helpful.
Certain classes of antidepressant medications are sometimes prescribed for the disorder. Studies show that antidepressants in low doses can decrease depression, relax craniofacial and skeletal muscles, improve sleep quality, and release pain-killing endorphins. Other medications that are used include anti-inflammatory pain medications and medications that work on pain transmission pathways, such as Gabapentin.
Eating a well-balanced diet, and avoiding caffeine may help with problems sleeping, and may help reduce the severity of the symptoms. Lifestyle measures to improve the quality of sleep can be effective for fibromyalgia.
Some reports indicate that fish oil, magnesium/malic acid combinations, or vitamins may be effective. Reducing stress and improving coping skills may also help reduce painful symptoms.
Improved fitness through exercise is recommended. Studies have shown that fibromyalgia symptoms can be relieved by aerobic exercise. The best way to begin a fitness program is to start with low impact exercises, like walking and swimming.
Starting slowly helps stretch and mobilize tight, sore muscles. High-impact aerobics and weight lifting could cause increased discomfort. Gentle stretching and light massage may help relieve symptoms, as well as acupressure, acupuncture, and relaxation techniques.
Severe cases of fibromyalgia may require a referral to a pain clinic.
Fibromyalgia is a common and chronic problem. The symptoms sometimes improve. At other times, the symptoms may worsen and continue for months or years. The key is seeking professional help which includes a multi-faceted approach to the management and treatment of the disease. There is no proof that fibromyalgia syndrome results in an increased death rate.
Conditions reported as associated with fibromyalgia or that mimic its symptoms include: rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, cervical and low-back degenerative disease, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep disorders , depression, cancer, and HIV infection.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health-care provider if symptoms of fibromyalgia develop.
There is no proven prevention for this disorder. However, over the years, the treatment and management of the disease has improved.
Update Date: 1/24/2002Ajay Nirula M.D., Ph.D., Department of Rheumatology, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT