25 January 2023

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition where the individual experiences widespread muscular pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep problems, memory problems, and mood swings.

Early research suggests that fibromyalgia can severely increase pain perception through changes in the brain and spinal cord's processing of pain and non-painful stimuli.

The cause of fibromyalgia is not yet known. Women are more likely to develop this condition than men.

What are the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia?

A person's symptoms often develop after a traumatic event, major psychological stress or physical injury, surgery, or infection.

There are also cases in which symptoms gradually accumulate over time without any single trigger.

Some of the common symptoms are listed below. The symptoms are divided into two groups - primary symptoms and conditions that often co-exist with fibromyalgia.

The primary symptoms of fibromyalgia are as follows:

  • Pain is widespread – In most cases, fibromyalgia pain lasts longer than three months and is described as a dull and constant ache. Widespread pain can be defined as pain that occurs on both sides of your body (above and below the waist).
  • Fatigue – Fibromyalgia patients often wake up tired after sleeping for long periods. Fibromyalgia patients often suffer from sleep disturbances, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnoea. Some fibromyalgia patients suffer from chronic fatigue.
  • Issues with cognition – Frequently referred to as 'fibro fog', this condition impairs mental focus, attention, and concentration.

Symptoms/conditions that coexist with fibromyalgia:

  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Sleep-related conditions
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • The face or jaw can be painful, including disorders of the jaw called temporomandibular joint syndrome (or TMJ)
  • Several digestive problems stem from this condition, such as stomach pain, bloating, constipation, and even irritable bowel syndrome
  • Painful bladder syndrome or interstitial cystitis
  • Postural tachycardia syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Enhanced sensitivity to light, noise, odours, and temperature
  • A feeling of tenderness when touched
  • Pain in the pelvis
  • Having dry eyes
  • Rash

How to get diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you must have an appointment with a doctor.

During this appointment, you will discuss relevant symptoms and any family history and personal health history.

Your doctor may also conduct a physical examination to check for sensitivities.

As there is no test to diagnose fibromyalgia, your doctor will diagnose the condition based on your appointment.

You may need to take blood tests or undergo scans to confirm your signs and symptoms aren't pointing towards another health condition.

How is fibromyalgia treated?

Fibromyalgia doesn't necessarily have a 'cure'.

There are, however, treatment options that work to manage the chronic pain that comes with the condition.

Studies suggest that fibromyalgia is best treated by combining non-drug treatment with medications.

Non-drug treatment options

Physical exercise

Exercise is the most effective treatment for fibromyalgia, according to research.

Exercise should be used in conjunction with any drug treatment.

Aerobic exercises provide the greatest benefit for those who suffer from fibromyalgia.

Other exercises and therapies, such as yoga, can help to ease symptoms.

It may feel uncomfortable at first due to the pain in your body, but low-impact exercise will not harm your condition.

If you have any concerns about pain with exercise, it's best to speak to a doctor to get some recommendations on which exercise programs might be best for you.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

This therapy focuses on bringing awareness of how certain thoughts and behaviours can affect pain levels and other symptoms.

It is possible to acquire symptom-reduction techniques through CBT and related treatments, such as mindfulness, that can relieve pain for patients.

Practising mindfulness is a non-spiritual form of meditation that enhances awareness of the present moment.

There is evidence to suggest that mindfulness-based stress reduction significantly improves fibromyalgia symptoms.

Alternative therapies

Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic and massage therapy are also recommended for patients with fibromyalgia symptoms.

It's also wise to consult specialists for any other conditions you may suffer.

For example, a sleep specialist for sleep apnoea or consulting a therapist for any mental issues that may be accompanying your fibromyalgia.

Medications

Pain can be relieved, and sleep can be improved with medications.

Fibromyalgia is commonly treated with pain relievers, anti-seizure drugs, and antidepressants.

Pain relievers

Fibromyalgia pain is an uncomfortable and painful condition.

It's suggested to talk to your doctor about an appropriate painkiller for your pain.

Anti-seizure drugs

Certain anti-seizure drugs have been shown to help with the pain caused by fibromyalgia.

This works as the medication can block nerve cells to stop them from triggering pain signals in the body.

If you want to consider this option, it's advisable to consult your GP.

Antidepre‚Äčssants

Antidepressants can be used to treat the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia.

It is also possible that these medications may help improve sleep by rebalancing neurotransmitters.

What support can I receive for my fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a painful condition.

Chronic widespread pain and sleep disturbance can naturally disturb an individual's daily life.

It is, however, possible to have a balanced life with the right support available.

Those with fibromyalgia can receive employment assistance through APM.

With the support available, you can overcome the challenges of fibromyalgia at work.

Call 1800 276 276 to learn how APM can help you thrive in your current role or find a position that fits your needs.

For media enquiries, please contact

adrian.bradley@apm.net.au

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