...less medical jargon in a 'Quick Glance' format!
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic pain illness characterized by widespread musculoskeletal aches, pain and stiffness, soft tissue tenderness, general fatigue, and sleep disturbances. The most common sites of pain include the neck, back, shoulders, pelvic girdle, and hands, but any body part can be affected. FM patients experience a range of symptoms of varying intensities that come and go over time.
diarrhea and/or constipation
anxiety or depression
Causes: Doctors don't know what causes fibromyalgia. Current thinking centers around a theory called "central sensitization." This theory states that people with FM have a lower threshold for pain because of increased sensitivity in the brain to pain signals. Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain. In addition, the brain's pain receptors seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals. In this way, pressure on a spot on the body that wouldn't hurt someone without FM can be very painful to someone who has the condition. But what initiates this process of central sensitization isn't known.
It's likely that a number of factors contribute to the development of FM. Other theories as to the cause of fibromyalgia include:
Sleep Disturbances: Some researchers theorize that disturbed sleep patterns may be a cause rather than just a symptom of FM.
Injury: An injury or trauma, particularly in the upper spinal region, may trigger the development of FM in some people. An injury may affect your central nervous system, which may trigger FM.
Infection: Some researchers believe that a viral or bacterial infection may trigger FM.
Abnormalities of the Autonomic Nervous System: Part of your autonomic nervous system controls bodily functions that you don't consciously control, such as heart rate, blood vessel contraction, sweating, salivary flow and intestinal movements. It’s thought that sympathetic nervous system dysfunction occurs in people with fibromyalgia, particularly at night, which leads to fatigue, stiffness, dizziness and other signs and symptoms associated with the condition.
Changes in Muscle Metabolism: For example, deconditioning and decreased blood flow to muscles may contribute to decreased strength and fatigue. Differences in metabolism and abnormalities in the hormonal substance that influences the activity of nerves may play a role.
Psychological stress and hormonal changes also may be possible causes of FM.
In general, treatment for fibromyalgia includes both medication and self-care. The emphasis is on minimizing symptoms and improving general health.
. . . Medications
Medications can help reduce the pain of FM and improve sleep. Common choices include:
Analgesics Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may ease the pain and stiffness caused by fibromyalgia. However, its effectiveness varies. Tramadol (Ultram) is a prescription pain reliever that may be taken with or without acetaminophen. Your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or naproxen sodium (Anaprox, Aleve) — in conjunction with other medications. NSAIDs haven't proved to be effective in managing the pain in fibromyalgia when taken by themselves.
Antidepressants Your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medications such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline (Pamelor) or doxepin (Sinequan) to help promote sleep. Fluoxetine (Prozac) in combination with amitriptyline has also been found effective. Sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) may help if you're experiencing depression.
Some evidence exists for a newer class of antidepressants known as serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or dual uptake inhibitors, which regulate two brain chemicals that may transmit pain signals. Studies have found that duloxetine (Cymbalta) may help control pain better than placebo in people with fibromyalgia. Small trials of venlafaxine (Effexor) suggest the same, though more study is needed to confirm these findings.
Muscle relaxants Taking the medication cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) at bedtime may help treat muscle pain and spasms. Muscle relaxants are generally limited to short-term use.
Pregabalin (Lyrica). Pregabalin may reduce pain and improve function in people with FM. Pregabalin, an anti-seizure medication that's also used to treat some types of pain, is the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat fibromyalgia. Studies show pregabalin reduced signs and symptoms of FM in some people. In one study, about half of the participants taking the highest doses of the drug reported at least a 30 percent improvement. Side effects of pregabalin include dizziness, sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, blurred vision, weight gain, dry mouth, and swelling in the hands and feet.
Prescription sleeping pills, such as zolpidem (Ambien), may provide short-term benefits for some people with FM, but doctors usually advise against long-term use of these drugs. These medications tend to work for only a short time, after which your body becomes resistant to their effects. Ultimately, using sleeping pills tends to create even more sleeping problems in many people.
Benzodiazepines may help relax muscles and promote sleep, but doctors often avoid these drugs in treating fibromyalgia. Benzodiazepines can become habit-forming, and they haven't been shown to provide long-term benefits.
Doctors don't usually recommend narcotics for treating FM because of the potential for dependence and addiction. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, haven't been shown to be effective in treating FM.
. . . Cognitive behavior therapy
Cognitive behavior therapy seeks to strengthen your belief in your abilities and teaches you methods for dealing with stressful situations. Therapy is provided through individual counseling, classes, and with tapes, CDs or DVDs, and may help you manage your fibromyalgia.
. . . Treatment programs
Programs that combine a variety of treatments may be effective in improving your symptoms, including relieving pain. These interdisciplinary programs can combine relaxation techniques, biofeedback and receiving information about chronic pain. There isn't one combination that works best for everybody. Your doctor can create a program based on what works best for you.