Harmony Medicine Blog

Fibromyalgia Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatment

To the frustration of sufferers, who often appear otherwise healthy, there are no specific diagnostic tests for fibromyalgia. Furthermore, its symptoms can be quite similar to other disorders which frequently leads to misdiagnosis, frustration, and depression. In this article, we’ll cover current definitions, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment practices of fibromyalgia.

What is Fibromyalgia?

The Mayo Clinic reports that “Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.”

For the estimated 5 million Americans 18 and older who are facing life with fibromyalgia, it’s a lifelong challenge to maintain the active and healthy lifestyle that helps to keep pain at bay. According to the National Institute Health, those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or spinal arthritis are more likely to have fibromyalgia. Furthermore, the disorder is much more prevalent in women than men. A full 80-90% of those diagnosed are women. While hormones may play a role, no one is sure of the precise cause.

The National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) notes that “Increasing attention is being devoted to the central nervous system as the underlying mechanism of FM [fibromyalgia]. Recent studies have suggested that FM patients have generalized disturbance in pain processing and an amplified response to stimuli that would not ordinarily be painful in healthy individuals.

What are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?

The symptoms may vary in intensity and include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic aches
  • Stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Painful menstrual cycles
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

If you suffer from fibromyalgia syndrome, you may even have two or more chronic symptoms that coexist. For example, one person may suffer from endometriosis and IBJ while another may be suffering from joint pain and chronic fatigue.

How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

In 2010, new diagnostic criteria developed by the American College of Rheumatology eliminated the relatively narrow use of “tender point” or “pain point” diagnosis and instead, now relies on a broader set of criteria which considers a much bigger picture, including chronic, widespread pain being accompanied by the symptoms mentioned previously.

A doctor familiar with the disorder should run tests that include a complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, cyclic citrullinated peptide test, rheumatoid factor, and thyroid function tests to rule out other disorders and diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

No one knows exactly what triggers fibromyalgia, but research indicates that there’s a strong genetic link for the disorder. It’s frequently noticed in grandmothers, mothers, siblings, and cousins.  It may also occur following a physical trauma such as a serious illness or injury. According to the NFA, “Other “triggers” can include both physical and psychological forms of stress. While the stress may help trigger FM, the stressor may not be involved in maintaining it once it starts.”

How is Fibromyalgia Treated?

Just as there’s no official clinical diagnostic test, there’s no cure for fibromyalgia. The first step is finding an integrative pain management team familiar with the disorder. You should certainly take medications as prescribed, develop healthy sleep hygiene, exercise regularly, eat well, and practice mindfulness.

Today there are a variety of FDA-approved medications to treat fibromyalgia. Alternative and non-pharmacological treatments include hormone replacement therapy, meditation, yoga, myofascial release, acupuncture, chiropractic, supplements, and massage. Maintaining an active lifestyle, reducing stress, and improving nutrition may all help minimize your symptoms and ease the pain.

What Research is Being Done?

Thankfully, a Senate spending panel just approved a $2 billion boost to the NIH. According to the NFA, Some of the current research that is being done on Fibromyalgia includes:

  • Why people with fibromyalgia have increased sensitivity to pain.
  • Medical, behavioral, and alternative treatments.
  • Genetic studies.
  • Inflammation and its relationship to fibromyalgia.
  • Methods to improve sleep in people with fibromyalgia.

To learn more about integrative pain management and how it can help ease fibromyalgia, contact Harmony Medicine.