Understanding the Causes, Symptoms and Treatments of Fibromyalgia


Fibromyalgia is a long-term and debilitating condition that is not well understood and is also difficult to diagnose. Millions of Americans are afflicted with the disorder, and although no cure is presently available, a number of treatments are available to help sufferers deal with its symptoms.

Among the common musculoskeletal disorders, fibromyalgia is second only to osteoarthritis in terms of prevalence. Although it is often confused with osteoarthritis and bursitis, fibromyalgia is less localized and can spread out over a person's body. Women are 10 times more likely to develop the condition, and most of the sufferers are between 25 and 60 years of age.

The primary symptoms of fibromyalgia are muscle and joint pain in combination with severe fatigue. Patients may experience aching in the neck, shoulder and back, and around the hips. Muscles may also twitch, and there may be swelling, stiffness or numbness in the affected areas. Besides the pain, those with the condition may suffer from such secondary symptoms as dryness in the mouth and elsewhere on the face, and they may be exceptionally sensitive to high or low temperatures. The prolonged nature of the disorder can also cause depression on the part of those afflicted and their withdrawal from social contacts.

Medical authorities have expressed different theories in an attempt to understand fibromyalgia, but no clear consensus has yet to be established as to the underlying cause. The condition may well result from a combination of factors, including stress, poor physical conditioning and prior illness or injury. It may also be inherited. Some in the medical community believe that certain cases may be related to hormonal or biochemical changes in a person's body that affect the way impulses are transmitted between nerves. One theory has linked the disorder with an insufficient level of the brain chemical serotonin. Significantly, women have naturally lower levels of serotonin, which may account for why fibromyalgia is more prevalent among women.

Since the symptoms of fibromyalgia are similar to other disorders, diagnosis normally involves a process of elimination to the point where it can be identified. Testing will normally include a complete blood count. A number of medications have shown promising results in treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia, including such antidepressants as Prozac and prescription and consumer analgesics. Alternative treatments include massage therapy and aerobic exercises. Only a careful review by a doctor of a patient's medical condition can determine the best course of action in treating any individual case of fibromyalgia.