Not only is May recognized nationally as “Lupus Awareness Month” but, May is National “Fibromyalgia Awareness Month” as well. It is estimated that approximately 5 million people in the US who are over the age of 18 suffer from this widespread pain condition, and if you have another autoimmune condition like — rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus, you may be more susceptible to developing fibromyalgia as an “overlap disease.”
The word “fibromyalgia” is derived from the Latin word for fibrous tissue (fibro) and the Greek words for muscle (myo) and pain (algia). Quite literally it means “pain in the muscle tissue” and is well deserving of this title, since most doctors believe it takes a criteria of at least 11 out of 18 painful tender points on the body to validate a diagnosis. These classic fibromyalgia tender point locations are typically located on the neck, chest, back, upper arms, and knees.
Fibromyalgia is estimated to have been around for several centuries, with the term “fibrositis” being coined in 1904 and later changed to fibromyalgia in 1976. It wasn’t recognized by the American College of Rheumatology until 1990 when the first criteria was published, and that was a decade after the first controlled clinical study was released in 1981. Even today, in 2019 there are still a lot of misnomers about the disorder, and negative societal connotations associated with it. The desire of this blog is to debunk those assumptions, by providing clear and unbiased “fibro facts” to help increase awareness and spur advocacy for those living with this often debilitating disorder.
Fact 1 - It is difficult to diagnose
Like lupus, fibromyalgia is very difficult to diagnose. Many people are misdiagnosed or dismissed by their doctors for years. Due to the lack of diagnostic tools, thousands who suffer with fibromyalgia are mistakenly diagnosed with lupus, and vise versa. Additionally, it is one of the most common lupus overlap diseases, meaning it can co-exist with other rheumatologic conditions (like lupus, and RA) simultaneously. Though it may be difficult to diagnose, fibromyalgia is a real disorder classified by the common symptoms of:
Pain and stiffness all over the body.
Fatigue and tiredness.
Depression and anxiety.
Problems with thinking, memory, and concentration.
Headaches, including migraines.
Many patients are dismissed because it is misdiagnosed as psycho-somatic and felt to be attributed to depression or a mood disorder. Though you can experience depression or anxiety with fibro, the disease itself is not “in your head.”
Fact 2 - It disproportionately affects women
As in lupus, women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men, however, men and children also can be affected. Scientists are not exactly sure why this is; however, there seems to be a genetic component to the illness as well.
Fact 3 - There are only 3 medications approved by the FDA to treat It
The symptoms of fibromyalgia can be very difficult to live with. Unfortunately, like with lupus, there are few medications that are approved to treat it. Doctors tend to rely on the “Triple AAA’s”: analgesics, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants. Currently, the medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat fibromyalgia are:
It is important to seek medical advice on any appropriate lifestyle changes (exercise, nutrition), complimentary treatments (like biofeedback, myofascial release massage, acupuncture), and stress management options to help manage the severity of symptoms.
Fact 4 - There is not one single cause of fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia doesn't have one main known cause. Instead, multiple factors can contribute to developing this chronic pain condition. Many people experience the onset of fibromyalgia after a physical trauma, such an an acute injury or illness.
Fact 5 - The fatigue is fierce
Though the widespread pain is the most common symptom in fibromyalgia, the severe fatigue is probably the second most discussed problem. This fatigue is debilitating and often interferes with the activities of daily life. Rest is very important, but it is also very important to maintain some level of exercise. Studies have shown that low-impact exercise (swimming, walking, yoga/Pilates) have been linked to an increase of energy and decrease of pain with fibromyalgia.
Fact 6 - There are multiple doctors who treat fibromyalgia
Rheumatologists: Physicians that help diagnose and treat diseases that affect the joints, muscles, and bones such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, and different forms of arthritis.
Neurologists: Physicians that help diagnose and treat disorders of the nervous system such as headaches, back pain, muscle disorders, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) or reflex neurovascular dystrophy (RND).
Psychiatrists/Psychologists: Medical professionals that help diagnose and provide therapy and treatment solutions for problems associated with pain, perception, depression, and/or anxiety.
Fact 7 - It is not contagious
Fibromyalgia is not contagious. You cannot develop the disorder by coming in contact with someone who is living with it. As mentioned above, there is no known primary cause as to why people develop this disorder, but it tends to run in families, signifying that there must be some genetic role to developing the condition.
Fact 8 - Though considered a benign disorder, there is no cure.
Fibromyalgia is not fatal, although that should not diminish the impact it can have on a person’s life living with it. Sadly, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia; however, just like with lupus, it appears people can have times of “quiescence” meaning, the symptoms can wax and wane, and at times are not active.
Hope these “Fibro Facts” were helpful! If you would like additional information, I highly recommend watching and sharing this one minute tutorial on fibromyalgia:
**All resources provided by this blog are for informational purposes only, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. Kelli encourages you to always contact your medical provider with any specific questions or concerns regarding your illness. All intellectual property and content on this site and in this blog is owned by morethanlupus.com. This includes materials protected by copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Copyright, More Than Lupus 2019.