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Fibromyalgia is a condition that affects some four million Americans. It's a chronic pain syndrome that experts believe may be caused by a malfunctioning nervous system. People with fibromyalgia experience muscular pain and tenderness throughout their body along with other symptoms, including extreme fatigue, mood disturbances (such as anxiety and depression), headaches, and problems with sleep and memory.
What is fibromyalgia?
People who have experienced fibromyalgia know the feeling. Imagine having a condition that causes widespread pain and affects how you move, function, and live. Flare-ups come and go and vary in intensity. The pain can strike one area but also move around to other parts of the body. Perhaps worst of all, the cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown. Doctors often can't find any physical source for symptoms and blood tests, X-rays, and other testing is usually normal.
This mysterious and often misunderstood condition causes pain, aches, and stiffness in muscles and joints throughout the body.
In addition to pain, fibromyalgia can trigger extreme fatigue, headaches, anxiety, depression, and trouble with concentration and memory. And the symptoms are often long-lasting. It is a struggle that confronts an estimated four million Americans.
While not a deadly disease, fibromyalgia can significantly impact one's emotional well-being and overall quality of life. It strikes people of all ages, but it’s more common in women than men. It also runs in families. Therisk of developing fibromyalgia is much higher if a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, also has the condition.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Not everyone with fibromyalgia experiences the same symptoms or severity. The most common symptom is widespread chronic pain. Flare-ups can feel like anything from a constant, dull ache to sharp, incapacitating pain.
Muscles and joints in various parts of the body are affected, especially the back, shoulders, upper arms, hips, and legs. There are several telltale signs of fibromyalgia, including pain that moves from one part of the body to another and tender points—areas that feel painful to the touch. Sufferers may also experiencefrequent joint stiffness, especially in the morning.
In addition to pain and stiffness, people often report intense fatigue, distorted sleep (difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking, lack of restorative sleep), numbness and tingling in the hands or feet, digestive issues like constipation and bloating, and conditions like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease.
Although the pain occurs in muscles and joints, there's no swelling, redness, or other signs of inflammation. All of this makes diagnosing the condition difficult.
What is the best treatment for fibromyalgia?
Finding relief from fibromyalgia can be a challenge. Because there is no known cure, fibromyalgia treatment involves managing symptoms and preventing flare-ups.
The best treatment strategy begins with finding a doctor who understands fibromyalgia, such as a rheumatologist or pain specialist. However, many primary-care doctors also diagnose and treat the condition. You also may need to consult other specialists like a psychiatrist or psychologist, neurologist, chiropractor, or orthopedist.
There are various options for treating fibromyalgia. The most common are medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exercise, which are used either alone or in combination.
Treatment strategies differ for each patient. You’ll work with your doctor to create a program that addresses all of your symptoms and related conditions.
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