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What is Fibromyalgia?

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What is Fibromyalgia?

May heralds Fibromyaglia Awareness month, an opportunity for those in the fibro community to share facts and personal stories to help educate and raise awareness of what it’s like to live with this all to often misunderstood illness.

Fibromyalgia: from the Latin “fibro” (fibrosis tissue) and the Greek “myo” (muscle) and “algia” (pain)

Despite being around for centuries, fibromyalgia still hasn’t been universally accepted by the medical community. Because there are no X-ray images, blood tests or biopsies that can definitively indicate the presence of this condition, it remains under-recognised and under-treated. It can take more than two years of tests to get a proper diagnosis; even though current research continues to offer proof that it’s a very real physiological illness with complex symptoms, many doctors, lacking knowledge and information, often misdiagnose it as stress, depression or anxiety; arthritis or joint inflammation which have similar symptoms, are also mistakenly diagnosed.

Fibromyalgia affects one in twenty people and more women than men, generally aged between 20 and 60 years. It doesn’t damage the joints, muscles or tissues but it is still extremely painful and it can be chronic, meaning that once developed symptoms may continue indefinitely. It’s not life-threatening but it is life-altering; it interferes with the sufferer’s ability to perform even the simplest of activities, making life extremely challenging.

The actual cause of fibromyalgia has not yet been identified. A traumatic episode (a fall or car accident, a viral infection, childbirth, an operation or an emotional event) may trigger it but it may also develop without any obvious trigger. Research has identified a deficiency in serotonin within the central nervous system, which coupled with a threefold increase in the neurotransmiter substance P, (found in the spinal fluid and which transmits pain signals) creates a sort of malfunction during sensory processing – the brain registers a higher level of pain when others might only experience a slight ache or stiffness.

Symptoms
As well as widespread pain, either joint pain, muscle pain (or both) affecting mostly the neck, shoulders and/or lower back, symptoms include:

over-sensitivity to touch, light, sounds or smells
feeling stiff, especially on waking – may get worse when moving
extreme tiredness (fatigue) and lacking energy
sleeping badly, waking up un-refreshed
problems with memory or thinking clearly (‘fibro fog’)
headaches
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Treatment
There is no cure for fibromyalgia (at this time). With no single therapy available to address every symptom, (medication does not deal with the underlying cause or causes of fibromyalgia, it only helps to relieve the symptoms) each individual must develop their own treatment programme and make significant lifestyle changes to manage the condition and improve their quality of life; some of these might include a combination of medication, exercise, nutrition, complementary treatments and behavioural techniques.

While some medical professionals doubt fibromyalgia’s very existence, others are focused on testing new treatments and trying to understand the nature of the condition and therefore the best way to treat it. The future for sufferer’s of fibromyalgia will only start to look brighter when more doctors approach fibromyalgia cases on both a per person and per symptom basis.

If you, or anyone you know, has experienced widespread pain for more than 3 months, please seek medical attention. If you are a fibromyalgia veteran and would like to attend the West Cheshire Support Group (when current restrictions have been lifted) please feel free to contact myself or Ruth Spicer – westcheshirefibromyalgia@uwclub.net .

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Amanda

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