Commonly Asked Questions about Fibromyalgia
WHAT IS FIBROMYALGIA? FM is a relatively common chronic disorder where widespread pain, diffuse tenderness, and potentially a host of other symptoms may be present. The word “fibromyalgia” is derived from the Latin term “fibro” (fibrous tissue) and the Greek term “myo” for muscle and “algia” for pain. Even though FM is often described as an arthritis-type of condition, it does NOT cause inflammation of the joints, muscles, or other tissues as is observed with some types of arthritis. However, FM does “look” like arthritis in that FM can cause significant pain that can interfere with a person’s tolerance to daily activities, including work.
WHO GETS FM? It has been reported that FM affects five million Americans ages 18 and older. For unknown reasons, between 80-90% of those affected are women, but men and children can also develop FM. Most people are diagnosed during their middle years. Several studies have reported that women with a positive family history of FM are more likely to develop FM, but it remains unclear if this is from a shared environment vs. a true heredity issue, or both. Currently, researchers are looking at variations in certain genes that cause some people to be more sensitive to stimuli, which may lead to pain syndromes like FM. People with rheumatic diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or ankylosing spondylitis – a special type of spinal arthritis) may be more likely to have FM as well.
WHAT CAUSES FM? Even though no one REALLY knows why some people develop FM and others do not, we have learned that FM is linked to the central nervous system. There are two types of FM: Primary (no known cause) and Secondary (occurs with a known underlying condition). Secondary FM has been associated with a physical/emotional stress or traumatic event such as a motor vehicle accident, and some develop FM after sustaining a repetitive motion injury or after an illness. In primary FM, it seems to develop spontaneously with no known cause or associated condition.
HOW IS FM TREATED? Treatment is challenging as not all doctors are familiar with FM and may not even “believe” it’s real (they may think it’s depression or all in the patient’s head). It is therefore BEST to find a “TEAM” of healthcare providers knowledgeable about FM and willing to work with you. This team may include primary care doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, clinical psychologists, and perhaps rheumatologists, among others. Massage therapists, acupuncturists, and nutritional therapists can also be part of the multi-dimensional treatment approach. However, the MOST important team member is YOU because keeping track of sleep hours, exercise amounts, diet, and knowing when to rest are critical for a good treatment outcome. You can guide us in finding care that works, what doesn’t, and at what “dose” feels best for you. Focusing on “control” rather than “cure” is important so you do not get too discouraged during the treatment process.