People who suffer from fibromyalgia know something is not right, even though they appear fine otherwise. This painful condition is not well understood, making it that much more difficult to diagnosis and treat. New research offers a better understanding of the disorder and may provide doctors with a way to diagnose the condition and monitor treatment.
Fibromyalgia causes mild to severe pain in the joints, tendons, and muscles of the body. Other symptoms may include fatigue and disrupted sleep. Fibromyalgia can last indefinitely, but does not seem to progress or affect survival. Although the condition is traditionally classified as a rheumatic disease, researchers believe fibromyalgia has its roots in the nervous system. This idea is supported by the results of a study published in the May 2003 issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism.
The study involved sensory testing of 85 individuals suffering from fibromyalgia and 40 healthy volunteers. Using testing of the pain reflex, various temperatures, mechanical pressure, and electrical stimuli, the researchers discovered that patients with fibromyalgia have highly excitable pain centers in their nervous systems compared to healthy individuals. This translates to higher pain sensitivity and lower tolerance for pain than the average person. A simple pinprick may be excruciatingly painful for someone with fibromyalgia.
The results also suggest measurement of the pain reflex may be one way to determine which patients would benefit from painkillers that target the central nervous system, such as antidepressants. A low dose of the antidepressant amitriptyline (Elavil) is already known to be effective at diminishing the pain associated with fibromyalgia.
Besides the possible use of antidepressants to combat the pain, a number of other strategies are effective at alleviating the pain. These include pain relief medications including acetaminophen, aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Doctors recommend low-impact exercise, such as walking, swimming, and cycling, as well as stretching to ease stiffness. Good sleep habits are also important to ensure the body has time to rest.
September 2003 Update