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Fibromyalgia Pain

Symptoms of, Diagnosing and Treating Fibromyalgia Pain

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Updated May 02, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body. Fibromyalgia pain is unlike any other kind of pain. I’ve heard it described more than once as feeling like "arthritis in the muscles."

Fibromyalgia pain is more than just pain: it is often associated with sleep disturbances, unexplained fatigue and memory problems (known as the "fibro fog"), among other things. While there are a number of theories about what causes fibromyalgia, including trauma and genetics, most cases are a mystery.

Diagnosing Fibromyalgia Pain

Diagnosing fibromyalgia can take many months or even years, as its symptoms are common to many other chronic disorders. There is no single test that can diagnose fibromyalgia. However, the American College of Rheumatology has criteria in order to establish a diagnosis, when other possible conditions have been ruled out:

  • Widespread pain lasting for at least three months
  • Painful or tender reaction to pressure in 11/18 possible tender points

If you think you are experiencing fibromyalgia pain, here is what you can expect at the doctor’s office:

  • History and physical
  • Questions about your pain: location, description, how long it lasts
  • A physical exam: the doctor may assess you for tender points, check to see how your joints move, etc
  • Blood work to rule out other potential causes, such as thyroid disorders

Keep in mind it may take several visits, and possibly referrals to other specialists, before fibromyalgia is accurately diagnosed.

Treating Fibromyalgia Pain

Treating fibromyalgia pain is also a challenge, especially when you consider how difficult it is to diagnose. Fibromyalgia is usually handled with several different treatment approaches, including:

  • Fibromyalgia medications: currently the FDA approves of Lyrica (pregabalin), Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Savella (milnacipran) for fibromyalgia treatment.
  • Other medications, such as NSAIDs and antidepressants
  • Physical therapy
  • Complimentary approaches such as acupuncture, herbal supplements
  • Gentle exercise, such as yoga, pilates or tai chi

Coping With Fibromyalgia Pain

Coping with fibromyalgia pain every day can be difficult. Like many other chronic pain conditions, fibromyalgia and depression are often closely related. In addition, fibromyalgia is associated with other uncomfortable conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and migraines. Coping with fibromyalgia means dealing not only with chronic pain, but a slew of other related conditions as well.

Daily life with fibromyalgia pain can be made easier by:

Other ways to cope include practicing relaxation strategies (which can help reduce stress and enhance sleep) and keeping a pain journal.

Learn about other lifestyle changes for day to day life with fibromyalgia from about.com’s Guide to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

Sources:

American College of Rheumatology. Fibromyalgia. Accessed 4/24/10. http://www.rheumatology.org/practice/clinical/patients/diseases_and_conditions/fibromyalgia.asp

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Fibromyalgia: Questions and Answers About Fibromyalgia. Accessed 4/24/10. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Fibromyalgia/default.asp

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