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You hurt all over, and you frequently feel exhausted. Even after numerous tests, your doctor can't find anything specifically wrong with you. If this sounds familiar, you may have fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in your muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points - places on your body where slight pressure causes pain. Fibromyalgia occurs in about 2 percent of the population in the United States. Women are much more likely to develop the disorder than are men, and the risk of fibromyalgia increases with age. Fibromyalgia symptoms often begin after a physical or emotional trauma, but in many cases there appears to be no triggering event.

Complications of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia isn't progressive and generally doesn't lead to other conditions or diseases. It can, however, lead to pain, depression and lack of sleep. These problems can then interfere with your ability to function at home or on the job, or maintain close family or personal relationships. The frustration of dealing with an often-misunderstood condition also can be a complication of the condition.

Causes of Fibromyalgia

Doctors don't know what causes fibromyalgia, but it most likely involves a variety of factors working together. These may include:

  • Genetics. Because fibromyalgia tends to run in families, there may be certain genetic mutations that may make you more susceptible to developing the disorder.
  • Infections. Some illnesses appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia.
  • Physical or emotional trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder has been linked to fibromyalgia.

Signs & Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia can vary, depending on the weather, stress, physical activity or even the time of day.

Widespread pain and tender points

The pain associated with fibromyalgia is described as a constant dull ache, typically arising from muscles. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by additional pain when firm pressure is applied to specific areas of your body, called tender points. Tender point locations include:

  • Back of the head
  • Between shoulder blades
  • Top of shoulders
  • Front sides of neck
  • Upper chest
  • Outer elbows
  • Upper hips
  • Sides of hips
  • Inner knees

Fatigue and sleep disturbances

People with fibromyalgia often awaken tired, even though they seem to get plenty of sleep. Experts believe that these people rarely reach the deep restorative stage of sleep. Sleep disorders that have been linked to fibromyalgia include restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.

Co-existing conditions

Many people who have fibromyalgia also may have:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Depression
  • Endometriosis
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Lupus
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia

The American College of Rheumatology has established two criteria for the diagnosis of fibromyalgia:

  • Widespread pain lasting at least three months
  • At least 11 positive tender points — out of a total possible of 18

Tender points

During your physical exam, your doctor may check specific places on your body for tenderness. The amount of pressure used during this exam is usually just enough to whiten the doctor's fingernail bed. These 18 tender points are a hallmark for fibromyalgia.

Blood tests

While there is no lab test to confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, your doctor may want to rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms. Blood tests may include:

  • Complete blood count
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • Thyroid function tests

Treatments of Fibromyalgia

In general, treatments for fibromyalgia include both medication and self-care. The emphasis is on minimizing symptoms and improving general health.

Medications

Medications can help reduce the pain of fibromyalgia and improve sleep. Common choices include:

  • Analgesics. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may ease the pain and stiffness caused by fibromyalgia. However, its effectiveness varies. Tramadol (Ultram) is a prescription pain reliever that may be taken with or without acetaminophen. Your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others) — in conjunction with other medications. NSAIDs haven't proved to be as effective in managing the pain in fibromyalgia when taken by themselves.
  • Antidepressants. Your doctor may prescribe amitriptyline to help promote sleep. Fluoxetine (Prozac) in combination with amitriptyline is effective in some people. Duloxetine (Cymbalta) may help ease the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. And milnacipran (Savella) was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Anti-seizure drugs. Medications designed to treat epilepsy are often useful in reducing certain types of pain. Gabapentin (Neurontin) is sometimes helpful in reducing fibromyalgia symptoms, while pregabalin (Lyrica) is the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat fibromyalgia.

Therapy

  • Physical therapy. Specific exercises can help restore muscle balance and may reduce pain. Stretching techniques and the application of hot or cold also may help.
  • Counseling. Cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to strengthen your belief in your abilities and teaches you methods for dealing with stressful situations. Therapy is provided through individual counseling, classes, and with tapes, CDs or DVDs, and may help you manage your fibromyalgia.


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