Despite affecting some 5 million Americans, fibromyalgia is a poorly understood condition. It is known to be debilitating and can adversely affect a person’s quality of life. As yet there is no cure. Ongoing research is slowly revealing other aspects of fibromyalgia that may eventually open new avenues to treatment options. One of the many hurdles is the misconceptions surrounding fibromyalgia which can compound the work, social and personal implications of the disease. Here are some of the more common myths and facts about fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is all in your head
Fibromyalgia is not an imagined phenomenon. It is a real medical condition and a disease since it causes great distress and suffering for the patient. Although some people may have it more severe than others, fibromyalgia still adversely affects every person who has the disease. It is not simply a case of being positive and imagining it away. It is not a person acting up due to some mental issue. The pain is very real. People with fibromyalgia seem to have a lower threshold to pain due to an oversensitivity in the pain response.
It is the same as depression
Fibromyalgia and depression are two different conditions. While depression may be a symptom of fibromyalgia and some patients with depression develop fibromyalgia, these conditions are not the same. Body aches and pain may occur in depression but this is not fibromyalgia either. Many patients with fibromyalgia do not suffer with depression and did not have depression prior to the onset of the condition. The pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia can understandably lead to depression as it has such a widespread effect on the quality of life.
Stress and emotional trauma causes it
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been linked to fibromyalgia. Whether it is a direct cause has yet to be established. Similarly emotional trauma has been linked to fibromyalgia. But these are no definitive causes. However, fibromyalgia can occur even without a history of physical and emotional trauma. Genetic factors has also been seen to play a possible role. Similarly infections may trigger or exacerbate fibromyalgia. But none of these factors have been proven to be a conclusive cause of the condition. The exact cause of fibromyalgia remains unknown.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition
Fibromyalgia tends to persist for months to years, and often decades. Many people will suffer with the condition for the rest of their life. While it can sometimes resolve on its own after a short period of time, in most instances fibromyalgia is a chronic relapsing condition. This means that there are episodes of intense symptoms with almost complete resolution of these symptoms for periods of time. Being symptom-free or having less symptoms for short bouts does not mean the condition is cured. The symptoms often return after weeks, months or even years.
Pain is the only symptom
Pain is the main symptom of fibromyalgia but not the only symptom. Patients also experience fatigue and sleep problems. Anxiety and depression may also occur. Some people may also suffer with headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and women may have endometriosis simultaneously. However, the defining feature of fibromyalgia is the pain, particularly at certain tender points in the body. There are 18 tender points identified in fibromyalgia and you should experience pain when pressure is applied to at least 11 of these points in order to confirm the diagnosis.
Changing your diet can cure fibromyalgia
There has been much talk about the role of diet in managing fibromyalgia. Some people claim to experience varying degrees of improvement in symptoms by eliminating specific foods from the diet. There is no scientific evidence to prove that dietary change is effective in managing fibromyalgia and it is definitely not a cure. While you may follow these dietary changes such as avoiding refined starches and so on, it is unlikely to bring you lasting relief from the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Only affects women over 40 years
While women are 10 times more likely to suffer with fibromyalgia than men, it does not mean that men are not afflicted. Fibromyalgia can occur as early as 20 years of age so it is not only middle-aged adults that are at risk. The peak prevalence of fibromyalgia in women is seen around the 60 to 70 year age gap. However, this does not mean that fibromyalgia is a condition of the elderly. Any person with widespread body pain, irrespective of age or gender, should be investigated for fibromyalgia.
You can sleep off the fatigue
The fatigue in fibromyalgia is not a simple case of getting more rest to ease it. Fatigue is the second most common symptom after pain and despite their best efforts, many patients have difficulty in ‘shaking it off’. People with fibromyalgia may awake after a night’s sleep feeling fatigued and sleep problems that often occurs with fibromyalgia further complicates the situation. The fatigue in fibromyalgia is quite intense and not the same as the exhaustion we all feel after a long tiring day.
Meditation may help with pain control
It is well known that the mind has extensive control over the body. The role of the mind in influencing certain systems of the body, like the immune system, has given rise to new disciplines like psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). Similarly the mind may be able to alter the perception of certain sensations such as pain. Meditation is one way of harnessing the mind to help ease the pain perceived in fibromyalgia. Other mental techniques used in mind body medicine may also be helpful for fibromyalgia.
Exercise must be avoided
While people with fibromyalgia may not feel like exercising due to the pain and fatigue, exercise is actually recommended. It can improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia like pain and sleep problems. Some people will find that the pain may worsen when they first start on an exercise program. But over time most fibromyalgia patients actually benefit from exercise. Therefore it should be part of fibromyalgia management. Patients should work with their doctor and other healthcare professionals like a physical therapist in developing an exercise program.