You hurt all the time. You sleep all night and sometimes during the day, but you never feel rested. You may have headaches and gut problems. Some days are not too bad, but others are hellish. Sometimes you are so hypersensitive that a simple thing like a bright light is unbearable. You are often depressed - who wouldn't be? You doctor keeps doing tests for a lot of sinister-sounding conditions, but they keep coming back negative. Your mother-in-law tells you that you look fine, and that there is nothing wrong with you that a kick in the right place wouldn't cure.
It may be years before you are told the final diagnosis. Fibromyalgia.
This diagnosis has become semi-respectable in the past ten years. In earlier days, this condition was known under the names of fibrositis, chronic muscle pain syndrome, psychogenic rheumatism and tension myalgias. There is a lot of cynicism about it because it is a collection of symptoms that come and go erratically, without a discernible underlying cause. Micro-injuries, emotional trauma, or disordered sensory processing may be involved, but research has not yet unraveled the mystery.
The American College of Rheumatology guidelines direct doctors making a fibromyalgia diagnosis to test 18 points on the body for tenderness by putting light pressure on them. Pain at 11 or more points may indicate fibromyalgia. However, extensive testing is necessary to rule out other causes which would be dangerous if left untreated.
Besides the widespread pain, often accompanied by stiffness, fibromyalgia sufferers experience a host of other symptoms. They include disordered sleep, restless legs syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, facial pain, headaches, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, difficulty concentrating, mood changes, dry eyes, dizziness, and anxiety.
The good news is, it won't kill you. The bad news is, you may wish it would. There are good days and bad days. Fibromyalgia is not progressive and does not damage the body. There is always hope that the symptoms will improve, even if only temporarily. Improving your general health, exercising regularly, and finding time to relax will help to ease the symptoms. There are also a number of treatments to try.
Dr. Robert M. Bennet, Professor of Medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University, has seen over 5,000 fibromyalgia patients in the past twenty years. He believes that their pain is real, their disease is real (even though there are psychological factors involved), and medical research is on the way to finding relief. "The good news is that contemporary research is hot on the track of unraveling the changes that occur within the nervous system of fibromyalgia patients. The basic message is that fibromyalgia cannot be considered a primarily psychological disorder, but as in many chronic conditions, psychological factors may play a role in who becomes disabled and may even up-regulate the central nervous system changes that are the root cause of the problem. "
Sources and resources:
Mayo clinic fibromyalgia information
National Fibromyalgia Association