The condition is long-term, although the severity of symptoms can vary. There may be times when symptoms are mild and other times when symptoms are severe.
According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers think that fibromyalgia may develop due to changes in the way the brain processes and recognizes pain. Although not everything is completely understood about the condition, it is thought that changes in certain brain chemicals may lead to a chemical imbalance.
One of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia is widespread pain. Doctors have identified certain areas or points on the body that appear to be tender for people who have the condition.
What are the tender points?
Tender points for people with fibromyalgia may include the back of the head and the tops of the shoulders.
Tender points are sensitive areas on the body that become painful when pressure is applied. Tender points are sometimes also referred to as trigger points, but they are not the same thing.
Trigger points are parts of the body that cause pain in another location of the body when pressure is applied. For example, if pressure is applied to the elbow, a person may actually feel the pain in their hand. Some people with fibromyalgia have both tender points and trigger points.
The tender points associated with fibromyalgia occur on both sides of the body and include the following areas:
- upper chest
- back of the head
- outer elbows
- tops of the shoulders
A person who has fibromyalgia may not experience constant pain. The pain can come and go and move to different areas of the body.
Tender points can also occur as a result of other medical conditions such as polymyalgia. But the pain that people with fibromyalgia experience tends to be more severe and widespread.
Various rheumatic diseases and regional pain syndromes can also cause symptoms that are similar to fibromyalgia. Conditions, such as Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, can all involve widespread pain and tender areas.
In the past, doctors would diagnose fibromyalgia according to a set of criteria that identified 18 tender points on the body. To be diagnosed with the condition, a person had to experience tenderness in 11 of the 18 tender points.
In recent years, the tender points criteria are not so widely used. The American College of Rheumatology developed new criteria to diagnose fibromyalgia. These criteria include widespread pain along with additional symptoms. Some doctors may determine if tenderness is present to rule out certain conditions.
Additional signs and symptoms
Alongside fatigue and depression, insomnia may also be a symptom of fibromyalgia.
Some people have many of these symptoms, while others may only have a few. Symptoms are also very personal to each individual and they cannot be measured with a test. For example, it is difficult to measure pain and fatigue because people may experience and report it differently.
Because of the complexity in diagnosing the condition, it's important for people to see a doctor who is familiar with fibromyalgia and similar conditions.
As many symptoms of fibromyalgia are vague to begin with, it can be difficult to know when to see a doctor. A person should see their healthcare provider if they feel widespread pain for more than a few weeks, especially if they are experiencing additional symptoms, such as trouble sleeping and concentrating.
Fibromyalgia is not a life-threatening condition, but it can interfere with a person's ability to function normally. Employment, family, and social life can be greatly impacted. Overall quality of life can be decreased.
Dealing with a long-term medical condition is upsetting. Anxiety and depression can also be complications of fibromyalgia. Withdrawing from activities due to symptoms can contribute to emotional issues.
Although there is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, there are treatments, which may decrease symptoms. There are also strategies and self-help remedies that may reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.
Medications are often prescribed to treat symptoms of fibromyalgia. Different classifications of drugs may be used, including the following:
Pain medication: Over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen may be recommended. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have also approved a few medications to treat fibromyalgia. Drugs such as milnacipran and duloxetine work by changing brain chemistry so pain levels are controlled. One drug, pregabalin, blocks nerve cells involved in the transmission of pain.
Sleep medications: Various over-the-counter and prescription medications may be recommended to treat sleeping problems that are associated with fibromyalgia.
Antidepressants: In some cases, antidepressants may help decrease anxiety, depression, and sleep problems caused by fibromyalgia.
Due to widespread pain, some people with fibromyalgia may become dependent on certain types of pain medications. Doctors usually do not prescribe narcotic pain medication due to this possibility of dependency.
Self-help tips and home remedies
There is also a range of things a person with fibromyalgia can do at home to manage their symptoms. These include:
Exercise: According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, exercise is usually recommended for people who have the condition. Forms of aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, and biking may improve symptoms. It's important to start slowly and gradually increase exercise as tolerated.
Relaxing and unwinding, including yoga and meditation, may help to reduce pain and improve mood.
Developing a sleep schedule and practice good sleep habits: Going to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time in the morning are helpful in developing a sleep pattern. Avoiding caffeine close to bedtime is also recommended.
Finding time to relax: It is useful to find ways to relax and unwind each day. Deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can be beneficial. Relaxing can improve mood, decrease fatigue, and may reduce pain.
Getting support: Dealing with a long-term medical condition is not easy. Accepting help from family and friends, and seeking professional support from a counselor if needed can help. Support groups are also available through organizations, such as the National Fibromyalgia Association.