If you are coming to terms with a recent diagnosis of fibromyalgia, or if you suspect you or a loved one may have this condition, there can be a lot of information to take in. In an effort to ease the stress of combing through dozens of articles for information on fibromyalgia, we have put together everything you need to know about this condition. This includes tips on the steps you should take after the diagnosis, and what exactly you will need to do to get started on treatment.
If you are just learning about fibromyalgia for the first time, it can be best described as a chronic condition in which the affected person experiences widespread pain throughout the body. The best theory determining the cause of the pain attributes it to an improperly working nervous system. When the nerves in the brain stop functioning efficiently, the person’s ability to perceive pain becomes irregular. While the occurrence of overall pain is the most indicative tell, here are some other symptoms that may indicate the presence of fibromyalgia:
- Issues Sleeping
- Depression and Anxiety
- Headaches and Cognitive Issues
- Irregular Moods
- Digestive Issues
- Pain Specifically in the Jaw or Face
Receiving a Diagnosis
The method that doctors use to arrive at the diagnosis of fibromyalgia has changed over time. Currently, the main symptom that needs to be present for a diagnosis is widespread pain throughout the body for no less than three months. Your doctor will ask you about which areas you are feeling the most pain in. If pain is present in four of the five regions of the body, then a diagnosis can be made. Another common method for diagnosis is by ruling out conditions with similar symptoms. The symptoms of fibromyalgia are very similar to several other ailments like arthritis and lupus, so it is common to rule these out. Your doctor may conduct a number of blood tests to rule out these conditions.
After the Diagnosis
If you have been recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia, the best thing you can do is to gain as much knowledge as possible on your condition. For many people, this starts with finding a healthcare provider that specializes in treating people with fibromyalgia. If your primary care doctor does not have experience in this area, have them refer you to a specialist. You can also find support groups that can help you find a specialist in your area. A doctor with experience in this area will be able to better guide you on your pain management and treatment journey.
Another way to further your knowledge on the subject is by taking a self-management education class. These classes are especially helpful at building confidence in living with and managing your symptoms. Living with a chronic illness may seem overwhelming at times, so it is important to have a healthy support system around you while you are in the early stages of treatment. Between your specialists, support groups, or classes you will have plenty of people to ask questions and learn from to further your knowledge.
Can fibromyalgia be treated? You may have noticed the mention of pain management previously. Because you cannot completely rid yourself of this condition, the treatment options are a combination of managing symptoms and maintaining a high level of physical and mental health. Fibromyalgia treatment can be highly effective when done correctly. The approach that is most effective at managing symptoms is a combination of a few different methods.
Prescription and/or Over-the-Counter Medications: A common fixture in most fibromyalgia patients’ treatment plans are medications for daily pain management. Painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen are pretty standard for pain management. Anti-depressants are also often prescribed for those who suffer from mood changes relating to their condition. Patients that have problems sleeping can benefit from muscle relaxants to help relax the body at night. The FDA has also approved an anti-seizure drug to help reduce certain types of pain.
Physical Therapy: Seek out a physical therapist that specializes in care of patients with fibromyalgia. Physical therapy is a great way to help improve strength, flexibility, and stamina. It is incredibly important for people with this condition to stay active, however this can be difficult when dealing with chronic pain. A physical therapist will help you learn how to use your body in ways that will help ease that pain instead of exacerbating it.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Because depression and anxiety are common in fibromyalgia patients, standard talk therapy can be a great tool. Speaking with a counselor can help significantly in bettering your ability to deal with stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Learning how to deal with stress is crucial for people with fibromyalgia as stress levels directly relate to the worsening of their symptoms.
Regular Exercise: Many studies support exercise as one of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia. While people with this condition are often hesitant to exercise due to fear of aggravating their symptoms, physical activity can be great at relieving symptoms. This can be as simple as walking around your neighborhood or taking a yoga class. Water aerobics are a great place to start if you need something that is low impact.
Diet and Supplementation: Marinating a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables and a balance of proteins, carbs and healthy fats is essential. It can also be helpful to avoid processed foods, chemicals, or an excess of sugar. Caffeine and alcohol are typically not recommended for fibromyalgia patients. Some people have also found that taking regular probiotics and magnesium supplements can help improve overall health. Talk to your doctor to see if supplements are right for you.
A Bright Outlook
Once an appropriate treatment plan is identified, people with fibromyalgia are able to live fulfilling and exciting lives that are not too dissimilar from life before the diagnosis. Whether you or a loved one has recently received a diagnosis, you will be in great hands with the right support team and treatment options on your side.