Fibromyalgia: Key Q & A

How are the symptoms treated?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved one medication specifically to relieve fibromyalgia: an anticonvulsant previously cleared to treat some types of seizures and nerve pain. Other medications that doctors sometimes prescribe to address symptoms include antidepressants, sleeping pills and pain relievers such as aspirin.

Other treatments that may be beneficial in the treatment of fibromyalgia include exercise therapy, massage, myofascial release therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, thermotherapy (heat), hydrotherapy (water) and cryotherapy (cold).

In addition, studies have shown that striving for restful sleep is also an important part of effectively managing the pain associated with fibromyalgia.

Does fibromyalgia affect the joints?

No. Despite what you may have heard, read or seen, fibromyalgia is a disorder of the muscles and not the joints.

Can I still work if I have fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia can make working difficult, as it seriously affects many people's quality of life. However, many people with the condition do work every day.

Who is most likely to get fibromyalgia?

Though anyone can potentially get fibromyalgia, the people most likely to get the condition are women in early to middle adulthood. No specific cause has yet to be determined, but you are more likely to get fibromyalgia if it runs in your family, have a rheumatic disease or if you have a history of physical or sexual abuse.

Are there any related conditions of which I should be aware?

There are several conditions which are thought to be somehow related to fibromyalgia. These include irritable bowel syndrome, restless legs syndrome, migraines, Raynaud syndrome, urethral syndrome, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and myofascial pain syndrome.

How can I tell if I have fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is best diagnosed by a physician familiar in treating the disorder. There are no definitive tests available for fibromyalgia, and many physicians are not adequately informed or educated about it.

Medical history and physical examination are the keys for making the diagnosis. The main criteria for making a diagnosis of fibromyalgia include widespread pain in all four body quadrants (on both sides of the body and both above and below the waist for at least three months) and pain in at least 11 of 18 specified trigger points.

For a child to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, widespread pain need occur in only three sites for at least three months, with pain present in at least five of 11 trigger points. In addition, a child must exhibit between three and 10 other major criteria, which include:

  • Chronic anxiety or tension
  • Fatigue
  • Poor sleep
  • Chronic headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Soft-tissue swelling
  • Pain varies with physical activity (more than adult fibromyalgia)
  • Pain varies with weather conditions (less than with adult fibromyalgia)
  • Pain varies with anxiety and stress (less than with adult fibromyalgia)

These criteria do not have to be noted all in one examination, but can be recorded over time.

Reviewed by Vikas Garg, M.D., MSA

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