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Fibromyalgia



Fibromyalgia syndrome is a common and chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain, diffuse tenderness, and a number of other symptoms. The word "fibromyalgia" comes from the Latin term for fibrous tissue (fibro) and the Greek ones for muscle (myo) and pain (algia).

Although fibromyalgia is often considered an arthritis-related condition, it is not truly a form of arthritis (a disease of the joints) because it does not cause inflammation or damage to the joints, muscles, or other tissues. Like arthritis, however, fibromyalgia can cause significant pain and fatigue, and it can interfere with a person's ability to carry on daily activities. Also like arthritis, fibromyalgia is considered a rheumatic condition, a medical condition that impairs the joints and/or soft tissues and causes chronic pain.

In addition to pain and fatigue, people who have fibromyalgia may experience a variety of other symptoms including:

A person may have two or more coexisting chronic pain conditions. Such conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, interstitial cystitis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and vulvodynia. It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.

Who Gets Fibromyalgia?

Scientists estimate that fibromyalgia affects 5 million Americans age 18 or older.1 For unknown reasons, between 80 and 90 percent of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women; however, men and children also can be affected. Most people are diagnosed during middle age, although the symptoms often become present earlier in life.


1Lawrence RC, Felson DT, Helmick CG, Arnold LM, Choi H, Deyo RA, Gabriel S, Hirsch R, Hochberg MC, Hunder GG, Jordan JM, Katz JN, Kremers HM, Wolfe F; National Arthritis Data Workgroup. Estimates of the prevalence of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the United States. Part II. Arthritis Rheum. 2008 Jan;58(1):26-35.


People with certain rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (commonly called lupus), or ankylosing spondylitis (spinal arthritis) may be more likely to have fibromyalgia, too.

Several studies indicate that women who have a family member with fibromyalgia are more likely to have fibromyalgia themselves, but the exact reason for this-whether it is heredity, shared environmental factors, or both-is unknown. Researchers are trying to determine whether variations in certain genes cause some people to be more sensitive to stimuli, which lead to pain syndromes.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

The causes of fibromyalgia are unknown, but there are probably a number of factors involved. Many people associate the development of fibromyalgia with a physically or emotionally stressful or traumatic event, such as an automobile accident. Some connect it to repetitive injuries. Others link it to an illness. For others, fibromyalgia seems to occur spontaneously.

Many researchers are examining other causes, including problems with how the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) processes pain.

Some scientists speculate that a person's genes may regulate the way his or her body processes painful stimuli. According to this theory, people with fibromyalgia may have a gene or genes that cause them to react strongly to stimuli that most people would not perceive as painful. There have already been several genes identified that occur more commonly in fibromyalgia patients, and NIAMS-supported researchers are currently looking at other possibilities.

How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

Research shows that people with fibromyalgia typically see many doctors before receiving the diagnosis. One reason for this may be that pain and fatigue, the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, overlap with those of many other conditions. Therefore, doctors often have to rule out other potential causes of these symptoms before making a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Another reason is that there are currently no diagnostic laboratory tests for fibromyalgia; standard laboratory tests fail to reveal a physiologic reason for pain. Because there is no generally accepted, objective test for fibromyalgia, some doctors unfortunately may conclude a patient's pain is not real, or they may tell the patient there is little they can do.

A doctor familiar with fibromyalgia, however, can make a diagnosis based on criteria established by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR): a history of widespread pain lasting more than 3 months, and other general physical symptoms including fatigue, waking unrefreshed, and cognitive (memory or thought) problems. In making the diagnosis, doctors consider the number of areas throughout the body in which the patient has had pain in the past week.

How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?

Fibromyalgia can be difficult to treat. Not all doctors are familiar with fibromyalgia and its treatment, so it is important to find a doctor who is. Many family physicians, general internists, or rheumatologists (doctors who specialize in arthritis and other conditions that affect the joints or soft tissues) can treat fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia treatment often requires a team approach, with your doctor, a physical therapist, possibly other health professionals, and most importantly, yourself, all playing an active role. It can be hard to assemble this team, and you may struggle to find the right professionals to treat you. When you do, however, the combined expertise of these various professionals can help you improve your quality of life.

You may find several members of the treatment team you need at a clinic. There are pain clinics that specialize in pain and rheumatology clinics that specialize in arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, including fibromyalgia.

Only three medications, duloxetine, milnacipran, and pregabalin are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of fibromyalgia.2 Duloxetine was originally developed for and is still used to treat depression. Milnacipran is similar to a drug used to treat depression but is FDA approved only for fibromyalgia. Pregaballin is a medication developed to treat neuropathic pain (chronic pain caused by damage to the nervous system).

Doctors also treat fibromyalgia with a variety of other medications developed and approved for other purposes.

Analgesics

Analgesics are painkillers. They range from over-the-counter products to prescription medicines. For a subset of people with fibromyalgia, narcotic medications are prescribed for severe muscle pain. However, there is no solid evidence showing that for most people narcotics actually work to treat the chronic pain of fibromyalgia, and most doctors hesitate to prescribe them for long-term use because of the potential that the person taking them will become physically or psychologically dependent on them.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

As their name implies, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium, are used to treat inflammation.3 Although inflammation is not a symptom of fibromyalgia, NSAIDs also relieve pain. The drugs work by inhibiting substances in the body called prostaglandins, which play a role in pain and inflammation. These medications, some of which are available without a prescription, may help ease the muscle aches of fibromyalgia. They may also relieve menstrual cramps and the headaches often associated with fibromyalgia.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Many people with fibromyalgia also report varying degrees of success with complementary and alternative therapies, including massage, movement therapies (such as Pilates and the Feldenkrais method), chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, and various herbs and dietary supplements for different fibromyalgia symptoms. (For more information on complementary and alternative therapies, contact the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Although some of these supplements are being studied for fibromyalgia, there is little, if any, scientific proof yet that they help. FDA does not regulate the sale of dietary supplements, so information about side effects, proper dosage, and the amount of a preparation's active ingredients may not be well known. If you are using or would like to try a complementary or alternative therapy, you should first speak with your doctor, who may know more about the therapy's effectiveness, as well as whether it is safe to try in combination with your medications.

Will Fibromyalgia Get Better With Time?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, meaning it lasts a long time-possibly a lifetime. However, it may be comforting to know that fibromyalgia is not a progressive disease. It is never fatal, and it will not cause damage to the joints, muscles, or internal organs. In many people, the condition does improve over time.

What Can I Do to Try to Feel Better?

Besides taking medicine prescribed by your doctor, there are many things you can do to minimize the impact of fibromyalgia on your life. These include:

What Research Is Being Conducted on Fibromyalgia?

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) sponsors research that will improve scientists' understanding of the specific problems that cause or accompany fibromyalgia, in turn helping them develop better ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent this syndrome.

The research on fibromyalgia supported by the NIAMS covers a broad spectrum, ranging from basic laboratory research to studies of medications and interventions designed to encourage behaviors that reduce pain and change behaviors that worsen or perpetuate pain.

Following are descriptions of some of the promising research now being conducted:

Understanding pain. Research suggests that fibromyalgia is caused by a problem in how the body processes pain, or more precisely, a hypersensitivity to stimuli that normally are not painful. Therefore, several National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported researchers are focusing on ways the body processes pain to better understand why people with fibromyalgia have increased pain sensitivity. These studies include:

Improving Symptoms. A better understanding of fibromyalgia and the mechanisms involved in chronic pain are enabling researchers to find effective treatments for it. Some of the most promising lines of research in this area include the following:

-NIH



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