Fibromyalgia is a condition found worldwide that has prompted ongoing research aimed at proper diagnosis, the impact of the condition on quality of life, and the search for treatment, as there is no cure.
About 10 million Americans suffer with fibromyalgia pain. It is a disease that impacts men and women, children and people of all ethnicities, although women are impacted at a higher rate, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association. Fibromyalgia typically presents in a person’s 20s or 30s and becomes progressively worse with age.
Diagnosis of fibromyalgia falls into classifications based on severity of the affliction. Those criteria were established by the American College of Rheumatology in 1990. The condition is described as widespread musculoskeletal pain that presents in 11 of 18 designated tender points that react when pressure is applied to them.
The ACR added new criteria in 2010 that may not use tender point pressure, but also looks at sleep problems, mental clarity, and fatigue levels.
The chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia typically impacts sleep quality, which causes fatigue, memory, and mood issues. Tension headaches are common in fibromyalgia patients, as are joint disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and depression.
Conventional medical treatments for the disorder include an anti-depressive group of drugs, called tricyclic anti-depressants. Also, short-acting sleep medications can help. The anti-depressants commonly used to treat fibromyalgia include duloxetine (Cymbalta), milnacipran (Savella), and velafaxin (Effexor).
It is important to note that when these medications are halted, especially Cymbalta, it can cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
A paper published Jan. 17, 2017, in the Annals of Internal Medicine based on research from the University Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, announces that another drug, Pregabalin, is successful in reducing fibromyalgia pain, but it also comes with adverse events.
Fibromyalgia and Quality of Life Issues
The impact fibromyalgia has on quality of life can be isolating. According to a study released in early 2016 that examined the quality of life issues of a Turkish geriatric population, as the severity of the disorder increased, so did the social isolation of the patient.
In fact, a third of the older patients who were diagnosed with the disorder suffered severely with social isolation and emotional instability, even across gender lines.
From Stigma to Validation
As new scientific evidence is revealed, fibromyalgia is moving from a stigmatized and misunderstood syndrome once dismissed as purely a psychological disorder to a true disease with its own pathology. Studies linking dysfunctional brain processing to fibromyalgia will help erase the stigma from sufferers.
For example, studies are finding that fibromyalgia sufferers are sensitive to more than just touch and movement, and that they also may have trouble processing sight, sound, and touch. This finding has been documented in a 2014 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatology that states researchers illustrated a decreased functionality in the brain.
Researchers are proposing using neurostimulation treatments in the visual and auditory regions of the brain to treat these symptoms in fibromyalgia patients.
Treatments: From Chemical to Holistic
Managing pain levels is paramount to survival and quality of life issues for fibromyalgia sufferers. The first task is to gain a level of comfort for everyday living, and that means pain management.
While the medications already mentioned can be considered established go-to’s, non-pharmacological therapies also need to be incorporated into the lifestyle. Research physicians are suggesting that fibromyalgia patients who are advised to work through the pain and engage in activities such as aerobic exercise, stretching such as yoga and cognitive-behavioral therapy will benefit from it.
Alternative therapies also have proved to work with pain levels such as lymphatic massage, acupuncture, herbal supplements, meditation and relaxation practices, according to treatment records.
Mainstream medical science agrees with naturopathic doctors that diet along with supplementation of vitamin D and magnesium may also impact fibromyalgia pain levels.
Partner with the Doctor
Other research has shown that fibromyalgia patients benefit from goal setting and detailed communication with their physicians. Physicians also need to be aware that they are treating multiple symptoms of a singular disease, and that problems will present themselves at varying times and with differing intensities.
Therefore, communication between patient and physician and a lifestyle as well as pharmaceutical approach can lead to better quality of life for those who suffer from fibromyalgia.