Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome characterized by an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and generalized pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons.
What is fibromyalgia?
The word “fibromyalgia” comes from three terms:
- “fibro,” meaning fibrous tissues, such as tendons and ligaments;
- “my(o)” referring to muscles;
- “algia,” which is pain.
This rheumatic ailment is considered a syndrome because it corresponds to a series of symptoms rather than to a clearly defined process. The syndrome strikes between 2 and 6 percent of the population. In Canada, this represents some 900,000 people, most of whom are women.
Fibromyalgia is difficult to detect since its symptoms are similar to those of other health problems. There are currently no medical lab tests, like X-rays for example, to diagnose fibromyalgia. Physicians normally rely on a physical examination of the patient along with his or her medical history.
Description and symptoms of fibromyalgia
The main signs of fibromyalgia are pain, sensitivity to touch and stiffness of the muscles, tendons and ligaments. The parts of the body most often affected are the neck, shoulders, abdomen, lower back and thighs. Pain can be experienced evenly over a large surface but also on specific points, where it will be more intense.
Furthermore, symptoms may vary from one person to the next and include:
- Muscle spasms;
- Poor quality sleep;
- Stiff joints;
- Lack of energy;
- Mood swings;
- Digestive problems;
- Facial pain;
- Itchiness, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet;
- Vascular disorders;
- Sensation of swelling;
- Thoracic pain;
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Memory loss.
Since these symptoms can also point to other diseases, it is important to always consult a physician.
Causes of fibromyalgia
The causes of fibromyalgia have not yet been clearly established. It seems to strike after a traumatic event in a person’s life. Certain factors may also trigger the syndrome. These are:
- Major psychological stress;
- Too little or too much physical activity;
- An injury;
- Giving birth;
- A viral infection.
However, fibromyalgia can also occur without an obvious cause.
Certain groups are more at risk of developing fibromyalgia:
- People over 50 years of age;
- People with sleep disorders (i.e. night muscle spasms);
- People who have experienced emotional trauma;
- People living with a major viral infection like HIV.
Preventing and treating fibromyalgia
Since this condition cannot be prevented or cured at this time, treatment options involve pain management and improvement of sleep quality.
The medications most often used to help patients are:
- Anti-inflammatory medication (like ibuprofen);
The use of heat, light massage, rest, frequent muscle stretching, regular exercise and stress reduction can also reduce pain and improve the well-being of the person affected by fibromyalgia.
Do you have questions about fibromyalgia? Talk to your pharmacist. He’s there to help!