Focusing on Fibromyalgia

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fibromyalgia pain

A Puzzling and Painful Condition

You’ve probably heard of fibromyalgia, but you may not know what it is. Fibromyalgia is a long-term (chronic) pain condition that affects 5 million or more Americans ages 18 and older. For unknown reasons, most people diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women, although men and children also can be affected. People with certain disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may also have fibromyalgia, which can affect their disease course and treatment.

Fibromyalgia can take a powerful toll on health, well-being, and quality of life. “People with fibromyalgia suffer from severe, daily pain that is widespread throughout the body,” says Dr. Leslie J. Crofford, an NIH-supported researcher at Vanderbilt University. “Their pain is typically accompanied by debilitating fatigue, sleep that does not refresh them, and problems with thinking and memory.”

People with fibromyalgia often see many doctors before finally receiving a diagnosis. The main symptoms—pain and fatigue—overlap with those of many other conditions, which can complicate the diagnosis.

“To make things more challenging, there are no blood tests or X-rays that are abnormal in people with the disorder,” says Crofford. With no specific diagnostic test, some doctors may question whether a patient’s pain is real. “Even friends, family, and coworkers may have a difficult time understanding the person’s symptoms,” Crofford says.

A doctor familiar with fibromyalgia can make a diagnosis based on the criteria established by the American College of Rheumatology. Diagnostic symptoms include a history of widespread pain lasting more than 3 months and other symptoms such as fatigue. In making the diagnosis, doctors consider the number of areas throughout the body where the patient had pain in the past week, and they rule out other causes of disease.

What causes fibromyalgia isn`t fully understood. Many factors likely contribute. “We know that people with fibromyalgia have changes in the communication between the body and the brain,” Crofford says. These changes may lead the brain to interpret certain sensations as painful that might not be bothersome to people without the disorder.

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