Fibromyalgia – What Is It? gives the following definition: 

Fibromyalgia: A syndrome characterized by, stiffness, and tenderness of muscles, tendons, and joints without detectable inflammation. Fibromyalgia does not cause body damage or deformity. However, undue fatigue plagues the large majority of patients with fibromyalgia and are common in fibromyalgia.

It is estimated that over 3% of the population of the United States suffers from fibromyalgia.  The condition affects women predominantly (over 80 percent), between the ages of 35 and 55.

This condition has been studied since the early-1800s and was called by a variety of former names, such as muscular rheumatism and fibrositis. In 1976, “Fibromyalgia” was coined to help describe the condition.  The term is derived from the Latin word fibra, meaning fiber, myo, meaning muscle, and the Greek word algos, meaning pain.

Characteristically, a person suffering from fibromyalgia will hurt all over, be constantly tired, depressed, anxious, have stiffness and tenderness of muscles, tendons and joints without detectable inflammation and may even have irritable bowel syndrome.  These are just some of the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is considered an arthritis-related condition but it is NOT arthritis, as arthritis is a disease of the joints and although fibromyalgia can be just as debilitating as arthritis, they are not the same.

Fortunately, fibromyalgia, although extremely painful, does not lead to joint deformity or damage to the internal organs or muscles like such other diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus and polymyositis.  Unfortunately, there is no known cause or cure.

Current research suggests that fibromyalgia can start from an illness or as a result of some trauma, such as a traffic accident.  The progression of fibromyalgia can have a slow onset, with many patients reporting mild symptoms beginning in childhood, such as growing pains.  Changes in the weather or an unrelated illness have been known to aggravate symptoms.

Fibromyalgia patients have reported that the following factors can temporarily increased their suffering:

         Cold weather, especially when damp

         Malnutrition, hunger, or starvation

         Physical activity of any kind, including minor tasks such as writing

         Lack of deep sleep

         Increase of stress

        The consumption of alcohol

Diagnosis of fibromyalgyis is tricky, as it is closely related to other conditions, such as endocrine disorders, arthritis and plymyalgia reheumatia.  The American College of Rheumatology has established two criteria for diagnosis:

         1.  A history of widespread pain lasting more than three months – widespread as in all four quadrants of the body, i.e., both sides and above and below the waist.

         2.  Tender points – there are 18 designated possible tender points, although a person with the syndrome may feel pain in other areas as well.

There are no blood or x-ray tests to help the physician with their diagnosis and, therefore, said diagnosis is made purely on clinical grounds based on patient history and physical examination. 

Widespread pain, on both sides of the body above and below the waist and tenderness in at least 11 of the 18 tender points when pressed are two symptoms that confirm the condition of fibromyalgia.

Although there are no specific bloods tests to determine the presence of fibromyalgia, there are blood tests that can exclude other medical conditions that mimic fibromyalgia.

Upon confirmation of the diagnosis of fibromyalgia after all other possible conditions are ruled out, treatment may consist of a variety modalities.  Not all patients will respond to these, but here are a few treatment methods that have helped:               

Getting regular exercise to help with muscle aches and stiffness – low impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, walking and stationary cross-country skiing machines are excellent exercises as long as you start out slowly.  It has been found that exercise regimens performed on an every-other-day basis, in the morning, are most beneficial. 

Stretching to help allay muscle stiffness and fatigue, as in mild aerobic exercise is also highly recommended.

Avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bedtime can help promote a more restful sleep.

Stress reduction.  This may include biofeedback, relaxation tapes, psychological counseling and/or support groups.  Some have even found that by modifying environmental factors such as noise, temperature and weather exposure helps.

Medications such as used for depression, in low doses, have helped in treating fibromyalgia.

Acupuncture may also help.  According to a study published in the June 2006 edition of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings and presented last year at the 11th World Congress of Pain, acupuncture relieved fatigue and anxiety in fibromyalgia patients for up to seven months after treatment.

Chiropractic care.  This treatment is based on the theory that restricted movement in the spine may lead to pain and reduced function.  Due to the risks of manipulation be sure to seek out properly trained and licensed practitioners.

Massage Therapy.  One of the oldest methods of health care still in practice, massage can reduce your heart rate, relax your muscles, improve range of motion in your joints and increase production of your body’s natural painkillers as well as relieve stress and anxiety.

The future of fibromyalgia therapy is, of course, to find the cause of the condition in order for researchers to develop a test that can help doctors diagnosis fibromyalgia.  Until then, fibromyalgia patients can be helped by improved education of fibromyalgia for themselves, families and friends, exercise and medications.