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Fibromyalgia symptoms are often misunderstood, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, or AAFP. These symptoms include tender spots at specific areas of the body that can be especially painful to pressure or touch. The exact cause is unknown, but some studies show that genetic factors may predispose certain individuals to the fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia symptoms described by patients always include widespread muscular pain that can be debilitating. In fact, fibromyalgia pain is real, not something that is “in a person’s head.” Fibromylagia symptoms in women usually begin between the ages of 35 and 60. It does occur in men, too, and there is something you can do about it. An accurate diagnosis and helpful treatment are out there.
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The Wide Range of Fibromyalgia Symptoms
Fibromyalgia symptoms include multiple tender points on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, and upper and lower extremities. More than 75 percent of patients report chronic fatigue as a major symptom and impairment, according to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.
The tender spots vary in severity from one day to another. One day they can be more severe in the shoulders; another day more severe in the lower back and legs. Pain can interfere with sleep.
New evidence suggests that fibromyalgia is related to how the body processes pain and the body’s hypersensitivity to factors that don’t normally cause pain. Most people are diagnosed during middle age, but symptoms can develop earlier. People with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and spinal arthritis are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than people without these conditions.
Fibromyalgia also has been associated with physically or emotionally stressful events, such as car accidents, repetitive-use injuries, and illnesses.
Fibromyalgia symptoms include pain and fatigue, but the syndrome does not inflame or damage joints, muscles, or other tissues. In addition to pain and fatigue, other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Irritable-bowel syndrome
- Memory problems
- Morning stiffness
- Sleep disturbances
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Painful menstrual periods
- Restless leg syndrome
- Temperature sensitivity
People typically see several doctors before getting a diagnosis. Once the condition has been identified, a team approach (doctor, pharmacist, physical therapist, and other specialists) seems to work best.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only three medications—duloxetine (Cymbalta), milnacipran (Savella), and pregabalin (Lyrica)—for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Other drugs often recommended for fibromyalgia include analgesics, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines, such as Valium.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen, are not particularly effective in treating fibromyalgia when taken alone, says the AAFP.
A Queen’s University scientist found that combining pregabalin (an anti-seizure drug) with duloxetine (an antidepressant) can improve pain relief, physical function, and overall quality of life in fibromyalgia patients.
Complementary and alternative therapies (massage, chiropractic techniques, acupuncture, and dietary supplements) produce varying degrees of success. Getting adequate, quality sleep can improve the symptoms of pain and fatigue, and an increasing body of evidence suggests that exercise is an effective treatment.
The most important thing to remember is for you to take an active role in managing your condition. Follow your doctor’s recommendations, make lifestyle changes that can help you feel better, and focus on short-term, realistic goals. Among the lifestyle changes are an increase in moderate, low-impact, planned exercise. Another is to recognize stress and take steps to deal with it. Third, follow a daily routine that includes going to bed, getting up, and eating at regularly scheduled times.
There isn’t one treatment plan that is effective for every person. You know how you feel, what you can and cannot do, and how fibromyalgia affects your life. Work with your pain management team to develop a strategy that fits your situation and personality.
This article was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated.