Fibromyalgia is a long-term or chronic disorder. It’s associated with widespread pain in the muscles and bones, areas of tenderness, and general fatigue. Symptoms like these are considered subjective, meaning they can’t be determined or measured by tests. Because its symptoms are subjective and there isn’t a clear known cause, fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed as another disease.
Medical researchers and doctors don’t know what causes fibromyalgia. However, thanks to decades of research, they’re close to understanding factors that may work together to cause it.
These factors include:
- Infections: Prior illnesses may trigger fibromyalgia or make symptoms of the condition worse.
- Genetics: Fibromyalgia often runs in families. If you have a family member with this condition, your risk for developing it is higher. Researchers think certain genetic mutations may play a role in this condition. Those genes haven’t yet been identified.
- Trauma: People who experience physical or emotional trauma may develop fibromyalgia. The condition has been linked with post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Stress: Like trauma, stress can create long-reaching effects your body deals with for months and years. Stress has been linked to hormonal disturbances that could contribute to fibromyalgia.
Doctors also don’t fully understand the factors that cause people to experience the chronic widespread pain associated with the condition. Some theories suggest it may be that the brain lowers the pain threshold. What once wasn’t painful becomes very painful over time.
Another theory suggests that the nerves and receptors in the body become more sensitive to stimulation. That means they may overreact to pain signals and cause unnecessary or exaggerated pain.
Fibromyalgia is often associated with areas of tenderness, which are called trigger points or tender points. These are places on your body where even light pressure can cause pain.
Today, these points are rarely used to diagnose fibromyalgia. Instead, they may be used as one way for doctors to narrow their list of possible diagnoses. Doctors use a combination of other consistent symptoms — and possibly some medical tests — to help them determine a cause.
The pain caused by these trigger points can also be described as a consistent dull ache affecting many areas of your body. If you were to experience this pain for at least three months, doctors may consider this a symptom of fibromyalgia.
People with this disorder may also experience:
- trouble sleeping
- sleeping for long periods of time without feeling rested
- inability to focus or difficulty paying attention
- pain or dull aching in the lower abdomen
Symptoms may be a result of the brain and nerves misinterpreting or overreacting to normal pain signals. This may be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Updated guidelines recommend that a diagnosis be made if you experience an ongoing, widespread pain for three months or longer. This also includes pain that has no identifiable cause related to any other conditions.
There isn’t a lab test that can detect fibromyalgia. Instead, blood testing may be used to help rule out other potential causes of chronic pain.
The goal of fibromyalgia treatment is to manage pain and improve quality of life. This is often accomplished through a two-pronged approach of self-care and medication.
Common medications for fibromyalgia include:
Pain relievers: Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Prescription versions, such as tramadol (Ultram), maybe be used in extreme cases. They’re used sparingly to reduce the risk of side effects and dependence.
Antidepressants: Antidepressants, such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) and milnacipran (Savella), are sometimes used to help treat anxiety or depression associated with fibromyalgia. These medicines may also help improve sleep quality.
Antiseizure drugs: Gabapentin (Neurontin) was designed to treat epilepsy, but it may help reduce symptoms in people with fibromyalgia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also approved pregabalin (Lyrica) for the treatment of fibromyalgia.
Understanding the underlying cause of your pain is fundamental to tailoring the treatment plan that will work best for you. Our Pain Specialists take a proactive approach to diagnosing and treating a wide variety of pain-causing conditions, using the latest technologies and most advanced equipment.