In this blog, we take a look at ten of the most common questions around Fibromyalgia - with a view to impart some knowledge and debunk a myth or two.
Does Fibromyalgia only occur in middle-aged women?
It is a myth that fibromyalgia occurs only in middle-aged women. Fibromyalgia occurs in people of any gender and age, in populations across the world.
Most commonly symptoms are seen in approximately 3% of the general population. The National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) states that fibromyalgia affects about 10 million adults in the United States, which means that between 1 million and 2.5 million men in the United States have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. In other clinical studies without tender point examination, the female-to-male ratio is stated as being 2:1, suggesting women are twice as likely to experience the condition. There is a range of opinion in almost all respects when it comes to fibromyalgia.
What is the definition of Fibromyalgia?
According to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 11th revision of the World Health Organisation, fibromyalgia now falls into one of 7 categories for chronic pain conditions. Specifically, fibromyalgia falls into the first category identified “chronic primary pain” which is:
"pain in 1 or more anatomic regions that persists or recurs for longer than 3 months and is associated with significant emotional distress or significant functional disability (interference with activities of daily life and participation in social roles) and that cannot be better explained by another chronic pain condition”
Read more on the classification of Chronic Pain for ICS-11 here on the National Center of Biotechnology Information website.
Can Fibromyalgia symptoms come and go?
The symptoms are persistent in nearly all patients. Total relief of symptoms is seldom achieved. Whilst many suffers of FM can improve significantly following multi-disciplinary pain management programmes, taking regular controlled medication and with a healthy diet and exercise, patients often struggle to engage fully with work and to conduct their affairs with the same degree of energy and attention as prior to developing the condition.
Fatigue and brain fog and the side effects from pain medication often contribute towards a general inability to get back to “normal”.
Read more on the NHS's overview of Fibromyalgia.
Does Fibromyalgia shorten life expectancy?
The symptoms do not directly shorten life expectancy. General lack of ability to take exercise due to pain might indirectly result in foreshortening of life over time, as with the rest of the population. Engaging in some physical activity that improves overall muscle tone, strengthening and weight loss are all good ways to reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Patients often feel they’re stuck in a vicious cycle of behaviour with pain being triggered by activity and activity often being prescribed as the best method to reduce long-term pain.
Is Fibromyalgia related to Arthritis?
It is a myth that fibromyalgia and arthritis are related, in fact they have little in common, other than sensations of pain. Unlike arthritis, fibromyalgia doesn’t primarily affect joints, it affects muscles and soft tissues, with patients often describing severe symptoms of cramps or knotting of muscles.
Further unlike arthritis and other rheumatic disorders, fibromyalgia isn’t a disease associated with inflammation. Instead of the pain coming from an inflamed area of the body, the pain stems from the central nervous system and invariably has a psychological component (which is not saying that “the pain is in your head”).
For further reading, check out the arthritis.org page on fibromyalgia.
Will I ever get used to the pain and symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
Most patients learn to adapt to the symptoms over time. We have worked with many fibromyalgia patients who learn methods and techniques to regain control over their condition.
Keeping a pain diary can focus the mind on triggers of pain and help people to moderate activity to reduce flare ups and also monitor what results if fatigue and moderate activity.
When people say to you that you’re “just tired”, you can say that in fact fatigue is a major debilitating symptom of fibromyalgia resulting from pain, sleep disruption, and mood disturbances, all of which influence one another and make time awake a chore and sleep intermittent.
Fibromyalgia symptoms take people far beyond feeling tired. Medication can also increase symptoms of fatigue and brain-fog, making patients feel exhausted, even if they are deriving some reduction in pain. People describe to us that some medications provide a win-lose solution to pain.
Is Fibromyalgia a catch-all diagnosis?
It is a myth to say that Fibromyalgia is a catch-all diagnosis. To be diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, patients must have:
Multiple painful areas of the body (on both sides, above and below the waist)
Additional symptoms, like fatigue, poor sleep, and difficulty thinking or concentrating
Symptoms that last for at least three months
No other apparent cause of these symptoms
Are alternative exercises and treatments for Fibromyalgia pointless?
It is a myth to say that alternative treatments and exercise are pointless. Meditative movement therapies — such as qigong, tai chi, yoga, and pilates, have all been shown to improve fibromyalgia symptoms. According to a review published in the journal Rheumatology International, improvements were seen in the areas of sleep disruption, fatigue, and depression.
Connective tissue massage was also shown to help with pain and fatigue. If you don’t feel able to leave the house, perhaps try some simple exercises, start slow and just do one or two to see how you feel and build up gradually over time.
WebMD have a useful article detailing seven effective exercises that you can do at home.
Is there a medication for Fibromyalgia?
It is a myth to believe that taking a pill will make fibromyalgia symptoms disappear. In fact, drugs alone don’t help many people with fibromyalgia in our experience. Of course, some will respond better to drugs than others and you will need to be led by your treating clinicians as to what is best in your specific circumstances.
Lifestyle changes, like exercise, stress reduction, good sleep habits, and possibly cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are far more likely to have a positive result, in terms of reducing pain.
Can I control my Fibromyalgia symptoms with a diet?
There are of course a range of cookbooks available that are advertise as being helpful to fibromyalgia patients. We can find no specific national studies that prove that diet alone can reduce fibromyalgia symptoms, of course if someone finds a specific recipe or diet helpful then they should continue to use it and maybe share it with us to pass on!
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a healthy balanced diet and reduction of alcohol, red meats, fried foods and refined sugar are advised. This can be said in terms of improving health in the general population and can encourage necessary weight loss.
Excessive weight and fibromyalgia are not good bed fellows. Excessive weight tends to suggest a lack of movement and excessive intake of the wrong foods. Excessive weight puts strain on muscles and joints and lack of movement increases muscle stiffness and can exacerbate symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Getting your heart racing encourages oxygen and blood flow to your muscles more efficiently and helps with reduction of calories and encourages weight loss. Whether scientifically proven or not you may want to check out some self-help books.
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