Fibromyalgia is a tough one. A chronic condition that affects nearly 5 million Americans, and an estimated 2 to 8 percent of the general population, there are no measurable findings on X-rays or most lab tests. It is diagnosed upon the basis of symptoms only, and those symptoms are not pleasant: patients experience stiffness and pain in their muscles as well as fatigue, problems sleeping, anxiety or depression, and specific “tender points.”
This last symptom is perhaps unique to fibromyalgia. These “tender points” are specific locations on the patient's body which, when pressed, cause pain. Anyone else would only feel the pressure.
The pain is intense, but because it cannot be confirmed through conventional testing, medical practitioners once dismissed it, believing it all might just be in their heads. Now, we know it's for real, and some researchers believe it might be caused by a glitch in the way the afflicted body perceives pain, caused by hormonal or chemical imbalances. It is likely the disease arises from a myriad of factors.
Women between the ages of 25 and 60 are the prime targets for fibromyalgia, and women are ten times more likely than men to contract the disease. And like so much with the sickness, we don't know why that is, although this indicates that genetics may play a role.
There may also be a link between fibromyalgia and depression, as nearly a third of the patients also have major depression when they are diagnosed. Researchers are not sure yet whether the depression might be a symptom or a result of the disease.
Also caught in a vicious cycle with the disease are the sleep problems fibromyalgia causes. Some of the sufferers have difficulty falling asleep, or wake up frequently during the night. Studies have revealed that others with the disease never really achieve restful sleep, but remain in a shallow state of semi-consciousness. The pain may make it more difficult to sleep, and the lack of sleep just makes all the pain that much more difficult to bear.
With the lack of understanding regarding fibromyalgia's roots, there is no regimen of medication that can target the disease specifically. Usually, doctors treat the symptoms specifically. The drugs duloxetine, pregabalin, and milnacipran have been developed which treat a mix of fibromyalgia's symptoms, but their serious side effects have limited their widespread prescription.
There are other respites for the fibromyalgia sufferer, however. Exercise, just three times a week, has been shown to relive depression and fatigue. The elimination of certain foods in the diet has also been beneficial in come cases, but it is not always the samefoods. A trial and error approach must be undertaken.
Both massage therapy and acupuncture have been used to relieve the pain of fibromyalgia in some cases with success, but the value of both are so far clinically unproven.
As there is no known cause for fibromyalgia, there is still no known cure for this chronic condition.