What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia (fi-bro-my-AL-ja) syndrome (FMS) is a very common condition of muscular pain and fatigue, affecting women more often than men. Seven to 10 million Americans suffer from FMS. It is seen in all age groups from young children through old age, although in most patients the problems begin during their 20s or 30s, but may not be diagnosed until later. Recent studies have shown that fibromyalgia syndrome occurs world wide and has no specific ethnic predisposition.
The symptoms of Fibromyalgia Syndrome
Fibromyalgia syndrome patients experience widespread body pain originating in their muscles. While pain is most noticeable when using their muscles, particularly with repetitive activities, or after a period of immobility, many fibromyalgia syndrome patients are acutely aware of pain when they are resting. Their discomfort can be so severe it significantly limits their ability to lead a full life. Patients can find themselves unable to work and may have difficulty performing everyday tasks. Although exercise is highly beneficial for fibromyalgia patients, many are forced limit their activities, including exercise routines, due to extensive pain. This results in their becoming physically unfit - which eventually makes their fibromyalgia syndrome symptoms much worse.
In addition to widespread pain, other common symptoms include a decreased sense of energy, anxiety, depression, and disturbances of sleep. This lack of stage IV, or REM sleep needed for the body to repair itself can lead to more significant degrees of anxiety, depression and low energy levels, becoming an unbearable cycle. Other medical conditions commonly associated with fibromyalgia include tension headaches, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual tension syndrome, cold intolerance, and restless leg syndrome.
Diagnosing Fibromyalgia Syndrome
Unfortunately, there are no blood tests or x-rays which show abnormalities associated with FMS, and the point and severity of pain can vary from day to day. Initially, this led many doctors to consider the problems suffered by FMS patients as all "in their heads" or that fibromyalgia syndrome patients had a form of masked depression or hypochondria. Eventually, extensive psychological tests proved this diagnosis as unfounded. A physician's diagnosis of FMS is a result of a careful documented history and the finding of tender areas in specific areas of muscle. These locations are called "tender points" or "trigger points." They are tender to palpitation and often feel somewhat hardened if the muscle is stroked.
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