Originally created 05/01/01

Age old question



Q: What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

A: According to the Fibromyalgia Network, fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder. Unlike painful conditions that affect the joints, this condition primarily affects muscles, ligaments and tendons.

According to the American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association, fibromyalgia can be grouped with syndromes such as chronic fatigue syndrome and myofascial pain syndrome. Some symptoms of these conditions overlap. Fibromyalgia patients may experience pain, fatigue, sleep disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic headaches, joint dysfunction, depression, chemical sensitivity, memory impairment, dry eyes and mouth, dizziness and impaired coordination.

The most common symptom is widespread muscle pain. Many fibromyalgia patients say that they feel the same pain associated with getting over the flu. This condition affects all ages, but most sufferers are women. It is estimated that nearly 6 million Americans have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Its cause remains undetermined, but some factors that may contribute to its onset include infections, automobile accidents, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and hypothyroidism. According to the American College of Rheumatology, diagnosis of the condition usually involves a test to determine tenderness in at least 11 of 18 specific points, including hip, elbow, knee, neck and shoulder.

Doctors most often prescribe medication to treat the pain and sleep disturbance of fibromyalgia patients. It is vital for patients to get enough sleep for their bodies to repair tissue and boost the immune system. Some common prescriptions that seem to help fibromyalgia patients include Elavil, Flexeril, Paxil, Serzone, Zanaz and Klonopin.

Some physicians also may prescribe over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin. B vitamins, ginger and ginseng also have been touted as beneficial. Alternative therapies, including acupuncture, acupressure, relaxation techniques, meditation, and therapeutic massage also have proven helpful.

An extra layer of bed padding between the mattress and a fitted sheet on the bed may help alleviate sleep disturbance. Hot and cold wraps or compresses also have received rave reviews from users. Back support devices can also be used in chairs to help alleviate muscle pain. These products can be found in stores, on the Internet and medical-supply stores.

The Fibromyalgia Network offers educational materials on the syndrome and on chronic fatigue syndrome. Topics in its quarterly newsletter include coping techniques, research studies, drug updates and conference information. Call the network at (800) 853-2929.

The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association also will send you a brochure and order forms for educational resources. Call (520) 733-1570.

Both agencies suggest that fibromyalgia patients seek a qualified health-care provider and a support group to help them cope with the many symptoms of the condition. Prioritize your activities and ask family members or friends for help when you need it.

If you have a question or would like additional information, please write to Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.