One in 50 Americans are estimated to have fibromyalgia, a common chronic illness that causes widespread pain and stiffness that is intermittent and migrates throughout the body. While little is known about the cause, patients diagnosed with the disease are faced with myths and untruths that result in improper care and a misunderstanding of how live with fibromyalgia.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia affects two to four percent of people, mostly women. There is no test to detect this disease, but doctors conduct lab tests and X-rays to rule out other health problems. Although there is no cure, medication, lifestyle changes, exercise and good sleep and hygiene can relieve symptoms allowing the patient to live a healthy and active lifestyle.
Fibromyalgia is a disease of the muscles and connective tissue. Symptoms of fibromyalgia are tenderness to touch, stiffness fatigue, insomnia and decreased mental clarity. Other organ systems, due to the widespread effects of the disease, may also be affected. Those with the disease also complain of headaches, worsening anxiety and depression, panic attacks, digestive problems, irritable bladder, pelvic pain and burning and cramping of the extremities. No experience is the same for patients suffering from fibromyalgia and the disease has a wide range of intensities. Long-term ability to cope with the disease is defined by a person’s desire to control stress levels and lead a healthy lifestyle.
“Without a clear understanding of the cause of fibromyalgia and no cure, patients diagnosed with the disease are oftentimes left feeling confused, frustrated and scared about the treatment options that exist. Widespread myths and untruths surround this disease and it’s important to know the facts and recent medical findings that show symptoms of fibromyalgia can be managed and controlled,” said Dr. Ann Cheri Foxx, a pain specialist at Center for Pain and Supportive Care (CPSC) in Phoenix.
“If you were diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it is imperative to be certain of the diagnosis. Research the symptoms of the disease and make sure they ring true with you. A misdiagnosis could mean that a reversible malady could be the cause of your symptoms. Also, other chronic conditions, like arthritis, may mimic symptoms of fibromyalgia. Through testing, other diseases and conditions should be ruled out.”
Widespread myths about the disease include:
Myth: Rest and abstaining from activity, exercise & sometimes work is recommended.
Fact: The opposite is true. Try to regain activity, but slowly. Pacing is key. Don’t sabotage your progress by trying to do too much, too fast. Activity fights the effects of the disease by increasing blood flow and removing lactic acid and other toxins. Yoga, tai chi and water therapy, are all good options for exercise. Keeping active will help distract your mind from the pain and minimize the effects of anxiety and depression. Activity causes your body to release endorphins which help combat pain and make you feel healthy. A sedentary lifestyle leads to worsening pain symptoms and loss of function.
Myth: Medication is the only way to improve symptoms of depression & anxiety.
Fact: While anti-depressants are proven to be effective, patients with fibromyalgia benefit greatly from the additional support of a behavioral specialist, like a counselor or psychologist. Learning to work through psychological and emotional distress caused by the disease and forming a plan for long-term coping skills will help maintain a positive outlook. Some newer anti-depressants have been found effective to help with both depression and pain. Other complementary therapies, including massage, acupuncture and medication work well with traditional medical treatment.
Myth: Opiates (narcotics) are helpful to relieve pain.
Fact: Opiates can actually worsen fibromyalgia pain and are often counterproductive. These medicines slow down the body’s natural inclination to move and result in worsening of muscle stiffness, fatigue and insomnia. Non-opioid medications, such as anti-depressants and some seizure medications, have proven to be more effective. Other over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, Naprosyn and topical pain creams may also help.
Myth: Because sleep is affected, sleep aids should be routinely used.
Fact: Prescription sleep medications are not routinely recommended for fibromyalgia because they interfere with innate biorhythms and the normal REM cycles of sleep. Occasional use of these medications during periods of intense pain are reasonable. It’s important to set a sleep schedule and get into a routine. While it may be difficult to fall asleep at the same time every night, try to wake up and get out of bed at a designated time. Lying in bed waiting for sleep will only cause more pain, stiffness and increase anxiety about the inability to sleep. Prior to sleep, turn off all technology, eliminate evening caffeine and adopt a sleep routine that is calming, dark, quiet and peaceful.
Myth: The disease doesn’t really exist and only affects women.
Fact: The medical community has formally recognized fibromyalgia as a disease for over 20 years. It is common in women, but also exists in men and children. It often starts in middle adulthood, but can occur in teen years and in old age as well. You are at a higher risk for fibromyalgia if you have other autoimmune diseases and a complicated history of trauma.
For more information on Center for Pain and Supportive Care, call 480-889-0180 or visit www.centerforpainandsupportivecare.com.