Fibromyalgia: What You Need To Know

Diagnosis Fibromyalgia, pills and stethoscope.

Diagnosis Fibromyalgia, pills and stethoscope.

Perhaps you can relate to this: Intense Pain. Being pricked and prodded by confused doctors trying to determine the real cause of the pain. Having that pain misdiagnosed over and over and over again until someone finally stumbles across the cause…fibromyalgia.

Today, six to 12 million Americans (90 percent of them women) are living with fibromyalgia, an often misdiagnosed and misunderstood disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain. A recent study shows that some people have gone nearly a decade without a proper diagnosis.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

While there is a lot of ongoing speculation about exactly what triggers fibromyalgia, its causes have yet to be definitively identified and confirmed. Recent research has generally found that fibromyalgia is most likely a result of what scientists call central sensitization, or unusual response triggers in the nervous system with regard to pain.

“The current consensus is that fibromyalgia is not a problem with the muscles, joints, or tendons, but rather a problem with the central nervous system,” says Dr. David Edelberg, founder of WholeHealth Chicago, a nationally recognized pioneer of integrative medicine, and author of numerous articles and editor of five books on integrative medicine, including the “The Triple Whammy Cure”.

According to Edelberg, the painful sensations that a fibromyalgia patient experiences are as real as any other pain, even though they’ve generally experienced no physical damage to the body.

This was clearly demonstrated when researchers did MRI imaging of patients with fibromyalgia. When they pressed on certain areas of the participants’ bodies, they found dramatically increased activity in the pain center of the brain.

Fibromyalgia’s Physical and Emotional Triggers

So what causes the nervous system to malfunction in this way? Scientists aren’t sure, but a number of conditions have been linked to the development of fibromyalgia. These include:

Infection. The Epstein-Barr virus, and the viruses that cause influenza, and hepatitis B and C have all been implicated in the development of fibromyalgia. “These viruses may have effects on the immune system. Additionally, there is a well-established connection between Lyme disease (caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi) and fibromyalgia: Some patients who have been treated for Lyme — and ostensibly recover from it — continue to experience the unusually high frequency of unprovoked pain that characterizes fibromyalgia.

Trauma. Though not typical, the development of fibromyalgia can be linked to physical injury, especially in the upper (cervical) spine. In other cases, it’s associated with great emotional stress, like the death of a family member or the loss of a job. The possible link between these unrelated types of trauma are the changes that both physical injury and emotional stress can trigger in nervous system.

Fibromyalgia: Symptoms & Treatment

“There are numerous symptoms,” explains Dr. Edelberg. “These can include: fatigue, diffuse pain, depression, inability to sleep, dizziness, and light and sound sensitivity. If you have fibromyalgia, you may experience some — or all — of these symptoms in varying degrees. And because of that complexity, there’s no one exact course of treatment.”

Fortunately, as physicians and researchers have become more familiar with the subtleties of this disorder, they’re now able to offer more effective treatment strategies, including key lifestyle recommendations as well as an array of targeted medications and other therapies. If you are experiencing what you think could be fibromyalgia, you should:

• Find the right doctor. Because fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, you will need to work closely, over the long term, with your doctor who is experienced in treating fibromyalgia. Start by pinpointing your exact symptoms so that together you can devise the best course of treatment for your particular issues

• Ask about medical options. Physicians typically prescribe a variety of medications, including muscle relaxants, antidepressants, analgesics, energizers, and sedatives — to deal with specific symptoms.