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News Letter

Fibromyalgia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments Print E-mail

People with fibromyalgia suffer debilitating fatigue and widespread pain that lasts for years and years. Fibromyalgia is the most common arthritis-related disease after osteoarthritis. More than 10 million Americans have fibromyalgia, with 90 percent of sufferers being women over the age of 40.

Fibromyalgia is a common, but misunderstood disease. On average, a person with fibromyalgia goes four to five years before receiving a correct diagnosis. In the past, physicians were not as well educated on the symptoms and often misdiagnosed the disease. Also, many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia are similar to other types of arthritis.  There isnâ��t a specific laboratory test for fibromyalgia and often it is diagnosed based on a good history and by ruling out other diseases.

Causes of Fibromyalgia

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. However, experts have many ideas on what possible causes of the disease may be.

Some researchers think that menopause or the loss of estrogen may play a role. Fibromyalgia is more common in women between the ages of 40 to 55, which is when menopause usually occurs. More tests are being conducted to find out if the loss of estrogen triggers this disease.

Other research shows that a deficiency in serotonin or magnesium may cause the disease. Serotonin is a chemical produced by the body that helps regulate your appetite, mood, sexual desire, and sleep. The low levels of serotonin may explain why people with fibromyalgia feel such a high level of pain and have more sleeplessness than the average person.

Sometimes the disease will first appear after an injury or illness such as a back injury, the flu or Lyme disease. However, there is no specific evidence that an illness or an injury cause fibromyalgia.

There may be a link between depression and fibromyalgia. Depression may lead to changes in the chemistry of the brain and release substances that cause more sensitivity to pain, resulting in fibromyalgia.

Some studies have shown that both stress and poor physical conditioning may be factors in the cause of fibromyalgia. It is suspected that during times of stress, the symptoms will be worse and that the pain will subside during less stressful times.

Regardless of what causes fibromyalgia, the symptoms can be successfully treated.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Pain is the most common symptom. Almost every person with fibromyalgia complains of extreme, widespread pain. Unlike osteoarthritis, the pain and stiffness associated with fibromyalgia can be felt all over the body and is defined as deep, sharp or throbbing.

Most people with fibromyalgia have tender points, areas of the body that are painful when pressed. There are 18 tender points on the body that are recognized by doctors. Doctors usually must find 11 tender points to diagnose you with fibromyalgia. However, the diagnosis depends on your individual condition.

Crippling fatigue is the other symptom that most sufferers have. This fatigue is described as constant and occurs even after a full eight hours of sleep. Other common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Morning stiffness
  • Sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Swelling, numbness and tingling in hands, arms, legs and feet
  • Headaches (migraines)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome


It is important to note the fibromyalgia can occur by itself or with one of the other 100 types of arthritis. It is common to see rheumatoid arthritis patients who also have fibromyalgia.

Treatment of Fibromyalgia

While there isn't a cure as of yet for fibromyalgia, there are treatments available. By taking charge of your treatment and your life, you can start to feel better.

Your doctor may prescribe some medications for pain relief. It is important to use the lowest dosage possible and it may take some time to find the medication that will work best for you. Work with your physician to find the right combination. Often, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are given but they aren't always very effective. Make sure you discuss any side effects you are experiencing with your doctor. Local cortisone injections may also be given and can provide pain relief at a tender point.

If you are suffering from depression and anxiety, anti-depressants may be prescribed. These drugs can help you sleep while increasing the amount of serotonin in the bloodstream. As with other drugs, make sure you discuss with your doctor the combination of medications you are taking to try to minimize unwanted side effects.  

Many people with fibromyalgia find that moist heat helps aching muscles feel better. You can find moist heat in the shower, bathtub or heated swimming pool or you can use a heating pad.

Exercise is vital in treating fibromyalgia. It can provide you with a feeling of energy and vitality while assisting with building strength and reducing the pain. Serotonin levels are boosted through exercise, which can lead to a reduction in feelings of anxiety and depression. Before starting an exercise program, be sure to discuss your plans with your doctor or physical therapist. He or she will be able to tailor a program to fit your stretching and strength building needs.

By understanding your particular symptoms, you and your doctor can put together a treatment plan to help you maintain your quality of life


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