What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition characterised by contunous and widespread pain, it is a chronic illness of the central nervous system. This means it results in a variety of nerve based symptoms. I was personally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2017, it began with continuous pain in my legs and gradually declined from there.


Symptoms

The most common symptom of Fibromyalgia is widespread and extreme pain, however there are an almost unlimited list of further symptoms all of which are individualistic to the person. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • increased sensitivity to pain, temperature, sound, light, and taste

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)

  • muscle stiffness

  • difficulty sleeping

  • problems with mental processes (known as "fibro-fog"), such as problems with memory and concentration

  • headaches

  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a digestive condition that causes stomach pain and bloating




Diagnosis


Fibromyalgia is a condition that is notoriously difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are similar to those of several conditions, this results in a systematic ruling out of those conditions. I experienced a variety of examinations, blood tests and scans, when they came back clear another condition would be ruled out, these included

  • chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as ME) – a condition that causes long-term tiredness

  • rheumatoid arthritis – a condition that causes pain and swelling in the joints

  • multiple sclerosis (MS) – a condition of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) that affects movement and balance

  • Cancer- A variety of cacnerous conditions mimic the symptoms of Fibromyalgia, therefore these must be ruled out

For fibromyalgia to be diagnosed, certain criteria usually have to be met, the most widely used criteria for diagnosis are:

  • you either have severe pain in 3 to 6 different areas of your body, or you have milder pain in 7 or more different areas

  • your symptoms have stayed at a similar level for at least 3 months

  • no other reason for your symptoms has been found

The extent of the pain used to be assessed by applying gentle pressure to certain "tender points", where any pain is likely to be at its worst. This personally was a horrific means of diagnosis, I was prodded and poked repeatedly, as you can imagine this exacerbated my symptoms leaving me unwell for a few weeks post examination.

Treatment

Treatment for fibromyalgia tries to ease some of your symptoms and improve quality of life, but there's currently no cure. As with most chronic conditions treatment will often be experimental, seeing what does and doesn't help you as an individual.


Fibromyalgia has numerous symptoms, meaning that no single treatment will work for all of them. This means a number of clinicians may be involved in your treatment:


A rheumatologist – a specialist in conditions that affect muscles and joints

A neurologist – a specialist in conditions of the central nervous system

A psychologist – a specialist in mental health and psychological treatments


Treatments that work for some people will not necessarily work for others and you may need to try a variety of treatments to find a combination that suits you. I am still on a journey to discover what suits me, that itself shows how long it can take to find the right treatment.


One of the continual methods of managing symptoms is painkillers and antidepressants. I have experienced the trials and tribulations of developing a tolerance to opiod medication, which is unfortunately a common occurrence for people with Fibromyalgia.Antidepressant medication can also help relieve pain for some people with fibromyalgia, by boosting the levels of certain chemicals that carry messages to and from the brain, known as neurotransmitters. Low levels of neurotransmitters may be a factor in fibromyalgia, and it's believed that increasing their levels may ease the widespread pain associated with the condition.


Another prominent symptom of Fibromyalgia is muscle spasms, therefore muscle relaxants may be useful. Diazepam is a common drug used to help in this case, I am given a limited supply each month, these prevent frequent hospital visits.



Causes


The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but it is thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and nerves) processes pain messages carried around the body.


It's also suggested that some people are more likely to develop fibromyalgia because of genes inherited from their parents. I have an aunt and great aunt who share the condition, therefore the genetic cause for me seems plausible.


In many cases however, the condition appears to be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event, such as:

  • an injury or infection

  • giving birth

  • having an operation

  • the breakdown of a relationship

  • the death of a loved one

Anyone can develop fibromyalgia, although it affects around 7 times as many women as men. The condition typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50, but can occur in people of any age, including children and the elderly. I developed the condition at the age of 17. There are some estimates that suggest nearly 1 in 20 people may be affected by fibromyalgia to some degree.


Living with Fibromyalgia


Four years after being diagnosed I can say it becomes manageable. There are good and bad days, with he good days resulting in a set of bad days. There are times when I struggle to sleep because the pain is too much. There are days when my mental health declines in response to the pain. There are days where a morphine drip and a small miracle would be very much appreciated. However, I am lucky to have the good days in between, when my medication works, I am able to sleep, when i can ignore the pain and push through it. I shouldn't have to push through it though, it is'nt something to be proud of.

Fibromyalgia is becoming a condition that is more widely recognised, with celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Morgan Freeman speaking about their personal experiences with the condition.


For more information on Fibromyalgia, including symptoms, treatment, disagnosis and support please visit:


UK Fibromyalgia


Fibromyalgia Action UK


NHS-Fibromyalgia







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