By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic and long term condition that has no cure. The condition affects muscles, tendons and ligaments and results in widespread pain, fatigue, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and myriads of other debilitating symptoms that make life difficult for patients.
There is in addition extreme sensitivity to pain. About 10 million people are currently diagnosed with this disorder. Although 9 out of 10 people diagnosed are women, men also get this disorder.
Why is fibromyalgia called a ‘syndrome’?
The condition is termed as a syndrome because it is a collection of symptoms rather than a specific symptom alone.
The symptoms vary from person to person and apart from pain and fatigue symptoms there is notably inability to get refreshing sleep, waking up tired and stiff and developing cognitive disturbances including lack of concentration and clumsiness, dizziness etc.
Patients tend to be sensitive to changes in the weather, to bright lights, noise etc. These symptoms have varying course of severity and come and go over time.
There are periods of flare-ups followed by periods where symptoms are minimal. However, it is unlikely that they will ever permanently disappear altogether. However, fibromyalgia is not life-threatening and does not reduce life expectancy.
Diagnosis with fibromyalgia often spells dread and unhappiness in many patients. A lifelong condition of pain and debility is one of the reasons why fibromyalgia patients are more at risk of anxiety disorders and depression.
Assurance, warmth, rest, exercise and reducing tensions, however, are combined approaches that can improve the quality of life and allow a patient with fibromyalgia to maintain a productive life.
Alternative therapies including acupuncture, and biofeedback have been shown to provide relief in some patients as well.
When diagnosed, it is important that the patient is allowed and helped to transit from having a healthy and active life to appearing healthy but living with a debilitating condition. This is because most of the symptoms of fibromyalgia do not appear physically and are experienced by the patient.
This transition should be smooth and such that it allows the individual and their family to understand that their life has charged permanently and significantly.
Key steps to cope with diagnosis
Some of the key steps to coping with diagnosis include:-
The patient should be helped to realize that life must be arranged around fibromyalgia.
The patient is armed with knowledge about what worsens the disease and protects them from it. This includes stress and environmental changes.
It should be explained to the patient that the system that is most affected is the muscular system. Stretching, exercises and aerobics programmes thus are the keys to minimizing muscle symptoms.
The patient should be helped to recognize and deal with the fact that fibromyalgia changes relationships. The faster a person adapts to this reality, the lesser is the risk of developing depression or anxiety disorders as a consequence. It is essential that the family and friends of a patient understand the needs of someone with fibromyalgia.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Jul 31, 2013