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Body

What is fibromyalgia?

Understanding fibromyalgia is the first step to relief.

By Morgan Johnston
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that affects muscles and tissues such as tendons and ligaments, causing pain. Until a couple of decades ago, it was generally thought of as a psychological illness because there was no obvious physical cause of the pain. It is now recognised as an actual syndrome, much to the relief of many sufferers who felt like they weren’t being taken seriously.
What causes it?
Doctors don’t know, but there are some theories including:
  • A genetic predisposition
  • A malfunction in the way the nervous system processes pain signals, linked to the levels of two brain chemicals
  • Sleep disorders
  • It is also thought that fibromyalgia may be triggered by an illness, infection or injury
Who gets it? About 80% of fibromyalgia patients are women and while it can develop at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 30 to 45 years old People with it often have other syndromes, including:
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Skin complaints
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Painful periods
  • Fibromyalgia often accompanies rheumatoid and other autoimmune diseases
What are the smptoms? Pain is the most prominent symptom. Sufferers describe it as aching, burning, throbbing, shooting, tingling or stabbing. It is usually located in the neck, shoulders, back and hips, and can move from one part of the body to another. It is often worse in the morning and can be affected by factors such as stress, exercise and periods. Some people experience mild symptoms, while for others the pain is severe and debilitating. Other symptoms associated with it include:
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Foggy thinking
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Dizziness and balance problems
  • Increased sensitivity to smells, noises, bright lights and certain foods
What's the treatment? There’s no cure so your doctor will suggest trying to manage the pain using a variety of options. Unfortunately, usual pain-relief medications and anti-inflammatory drugs don’t often work for people with fibromyalgia. Stronger medications may be prescribed in severe cases. Trials have shown that low doses of two common antidepressants – amitriptyline and fluoxetine (Prozac) – may help some people by controlling pain.
Lifestyle changes may help, including resting frequently, doing everything you can to get a good night’s sleep and reducing stress. Exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do, but it can help make muscles stronger, increasing muscle tone and helping you to sleep. Low-impact exercise, such as walking, is a good way to start. Some people fi nd alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, heat packs, t’ai chi or yoga are useful.

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