Fibromyalgia

What is Fibromyalgia?

FMS (fibromyalgia syndrome) is a widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder for which the cause is still unknown. Fibromyalgia means pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons – the soft fibrous tissues in the body.

How will it make Someone Feel?

Most patients with FMS say that they ache all over. Their muscles may feel like they have been pulled or overworked. Sometimes the muscles twitch and at other times they burn. More women than men are afflicted with FMS, and it shows up in people of all ages.

To help your family and friends relate to your condition, have them think back to the last time they had a bad flu. Every muscle in their body shouted out in pain. In addition, they felt devoid of energy as though someone had unplugged their power supply. While the severity of symptoms fluctuate from person to person, FMS may resemble a post-viral state. This similarity is the reason experts in the field of FMS and chronic fatigue syndrome ( CFS) believe that these two syndromes may be one and the same. Gulf War syndrome also overlaps with FMS/ CFS.

Symptoms and Associated Syndromes:

Pain – The pain of FMS has no boundaries. People describe the pain as deep muscular aching, throbbing, shooting, and stabbing. Intense burning may also be present. Quite often, the pain and stiffness are worse in the morning and you may hurt more in muscle groups that are used repetitively.

Fatigue – This symptom can be mild in some patients and yet incapacitating in others. The fatigue has been described as “brain fatigue” in which patients feel totally drained of energy. Many patients depict this situation by saying that they feel as though their arms and legs are tied to concrete blocks, and they have difficulty concentrating, e.g., brain fog.

Sleep Disorder – Most FMS patients have an associated sleep disorder called the alpha-EEG anomaly. This condition was uncovered in a sleep lab with the aid of a machine which recorded the brain waves of patients during sleep. Researchers found that most FMS patients could fall asleep without much trouble, but their deep level (or stage 4) sleep was constantly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity. Patients appeared to spend the night with one foot in sleep and the other one out of it.

Sleep lab tests may not be necessary to determine if you have disturbed sleep. If you wake up feeling as though you’ve just been run over by a Mack truck – what doctors refer to as unrefreshing sleep – it is reasonable for your physician to assume that you have a sleep disorder. Many FMS patients have been found to have other sleep disorders in addition to the alpha-EEG, such as sleep apnea, sleep myoclonus (nighttime jerking of the arms and legs), and restless legs syndrome. A newly discovered sleep disorder, upper-airway resistance syndrome, is also being evaluated for its association with FMS.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Constipation, diarrhea, frequent abdominal pain, abdominal gas, and nausea represent symptoms frequently found in roughly 40 to 70% of FMS patients.

Chronic Headaches – Recurrent migraine or tension-type headaches are seen in about 50% of FMS patients and can pose a major problem in coping for this patient group.

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Syndrome – This syndrome, sometimes referred to as TMJ or TMD, causes tremendous jaw-related face and head pain in one quarter of FMS patients. However, a 1997 published report indicated that close to 75% of FMS patients have a varying degree of jaw discomfort. Typically, the problems are related to the muscles and ligaments surrounding the jaw joint and not necessarily the joint itself.

Other Common Symptoms – Premenstrual syndrome and painful periods, chest pain, morning stiffness, cognitive or memory impairment, numbness and tingling sensations, muscle twitching, irritable bladder, the feeling of swollen extremities, skin sensitivities, dry eyes and mouth, dizziness, and impaired coordination can occur. Patients are often sensitive to odors, loud noises, bright lights, and sometimes even the medications that they are prescribed.

Aggravating Factors – Changes in weather, cold or drafty environments, infections, allergies, hormonal fluctuations (premenstrual and menopausal states), stress, depression, anxiety and over-exertion may all contribute to symptom flare-ups.

What is the Treatment?

Traditional treatments are geared toward improving the quality of sleep and reducing pain. Deep level (stage 4) sleep is crucial for many body functions (such as tissue repair, antibody production, and the regulation of various neurotransmitters, hormones and immune system chemicals). Therefore, the sleep disorders that frequently occur in FMS patients are treated first because they may be a strong contributing factor to the symptoms of this condition.

In addition, most patients will need to use other treatment methods as well, such as chiropractic care, physical therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, relaxation/biofeedback techniques, therapeutic massage, or a gentle exercise program.

What is the Prognosis?
Long term follow-up studies on FMS have shown that it is chronic, but the symptoms may wax and wane. The impact that FMS has on daily living activities, including the ability to work a full-time job, differs among patients. Overall, studies show that FMS may be equally as disabling as rheumatoid arthritis.