I had a friend growing up who suffered from headaches, pain in her arms and legs, fatigue and mild depression. Her parents took her to many different doctors, but nothing seemed to get better. After years of suffering and failed treatment options, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
According to the National Fibromyalgia Foundation, fibromyalgia is considered a syndrome rather than disease. The difference being a disease has a definable cause and recognizable signs and symptoms. A syndrome is a collection of signs and symptoms but the actual cause may not be known. Just because it is classified as a “syndrome” does not and should not minimize or belittle the validity of the condition or diagnosis. People with fibromyalgia have very real symptoms and very real pain, but unfortunately, this syndrome has also a varied degree of treatability.
The characteristics of fibromyalgia include pain on both sides of your body, widespread tender points, fatigue, sleep disruption and possibly psychological distress. In addition, people with this syndrome may also experience headaches, moodiness, anxiety, and irritable bowel syndrome. These individually are common medical conditions, but with fibromyalgia there is not currently a cure for this condition.
It’s been estimated that fibromyalgia affects nearly 6 million people in the United States and women are more likely to be diagnosed than men. While there may not be a cure for these 6 million sufferers, there are a variety of ways to cope with fibromyalgia. First, there are prescription medications that can help with pain management and mood disruption. Second, getting consistent moderate exercise helps to reduce pain and keeps the body healthy. Third, establishing good life habits including getting routine sleep, and eating a healthy diet that is conducive to your body type. Fourth, developing coping strategies for reducing stress and anxiety, which may include taking prescription medication and seeking professional help. Finally, finding a support group or people you can talk to about your needs, feelings and frustrations. The key is to recognize you are not alone and that there are people will and able to help you.
It’s also important for family members to be educated and understanding about the symptoms of someone suffering from fibromyalgia. I think back to my friend who tried to get help from her family and local doctors, but most of the time her symptoms were dismissed or misunderstood. I can’t imagine how frustrating that was for her. Luckily, the medical community has acknowledged that this syndrome is real and is better trained to assist their patients in establishing a treatment plan.
For more information about fibromyalgia visit the National Fibromyalgia