Fibromyalgia: Pain, Pain Go Away
There’s an illness that affects an estimated 10 million American adults – 8 out of 10 of whom are women – yet it’s still widely unknown to many. This syndrome is fibromyalgia.
“Often misdiagnosed initially, fibromyalgia is a chronic, but not life-threatening, pain syndrome. Simply put, a pinched finger is far more painful to a person with fibromyalgia than to someone without it,” explains Virtua rheumatologist
Adrienne Hollander, MD.
The biggest question for most is what causes it? Recent studies suggest that fibromyalgia patients have a general disturbance in pain processing and an increased response to stimuli that wouldn’t ordinarily be painful in most individuals. In addition, research points to a genetic component, as fibromyalgia often is seen in families, among siblings or mothers and their children.
It’s difficult to diagnose because it’s unusual for someone to have chronic pain without another underlying cause. Although this chronic, widespread body pain is the primary symptom of fibromyalgia, a variety of other symptoms are common including moderate to severe fatigue, sleep disorders, impaired memory and concentration, headaches and migraines, and anxiety and depression.
Since there are no lab tests that diagnose fibromyalgia, it can take a long time to get to a diagnosis and many unnecessary lab tests. Most of the time patients with symptoms of fibromyalgia have seen at least one other physician before they arrive in Dr. Hollander’s office. What’s comforting is that there’s help when they finally get there.
“Pain can be greatly decreased for people with fibromyalgia,” says Dr. Hollander. “It can be controlled with antidepressants, which elevate levels of specific pain-relieving chemicals in the brain. Exercise also is very helpful because it naturally releases endorphins, such as serotonin,” adds Dr. Hollander.
Fibromyalgia may be chronic but it doesn’t have to be a source of pain forever. With the right specialist and treatment, pain-free living is within reach.
Updated June 6, 2016