Fibromyalgia literally means pain in the soft fibrous tissues – muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The condition involves great pain, disturbed sleep, and severe fatigue.
For most with fibromyalgia, they feel as if they have the aches and pains that come with the flu. Their muscles might twitch or burn, or feel overworked.
The fatigue a fibromyalgia patient feels can be incapacitating. They may feel totally void of all energy. Some describe that it feels like concrete blocks are tied to their arms and legs. They may also have a hard time concentrating.
Most have a sleep disorder as well. When they reach stage four of the sleep cycle, or deep sleep, they experience bursts of brain activity that resemble wakefulness.
Someone with fibromyalgia may also have irritable bowel syndrome, frequent headaches, or Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Syndrome (TMJ). TMJ causes pain in the jaw or head.
Patients may experience a host of other symptoms: morning stiffness, cognitive/memory impairment, chest pain, numbness, dry eyes and mouth, dizziness and even impaired coordination.
An exact cause of fibromyalgia is not known. The current theory is that fibromyalgia patients have increased sensitivity in their brains to pain signals that give them a low pain threshold. The repeated stimulation to nerves may cause changes in the brain. Neurotransmitters, which transmit pain signals, may increase. The neurons, which accept the signals, may overreact.
Fibromyalgia affects females more often than males, and all ages are affected. Somewhere between two and five percent of the population has this condition.
Risk factors include age. Although people of any age can have this condition, it develops most in early and middle adulthood. Disturbed sleep patterns, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or muscle spasms seem to be a risk factor as well. Family history and rheumatic disease place one at higher risk.
Medication is typically used to treat the condition. Various analgesics, like acetaminophen, tramadol, and even aspirin or ibuprofen are often prescribed to relieve pain and stiffness.
Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to help patients sleep. Serotonin or norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors regulate chemicals in the brain that might transmit pain signals; these antidepressants may help with the pain.
Muscle relaxants are prescribed to help with muscle spasms and pain, but these are usually used on a short-term basis.
An anti-seizure drug called Pregabalin is effective in some fibromyalgia patients. It is the first drug the FDA approved to treat the condition.
Sleeping pills can provide short-term relief for some patients. If used for an extended period, the body can become resistant, which creates more problems for some people.