Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is derived from three root terms: the Latin fibra, meaning fiber, and the Greek myo and algos, meaning muscle and pain, respectively.  Fibromyalgia is a relatively recently-recognized disease:  The term “fibromyalgia” was first used by Dr. P.K. Hench in the journal Rheumatism Reviews in 1976.  By the early 80s, researchers had settled on fibromyalgia to describe a wide range of symptoms that had appeared under various names in medical literature for a century.

Fibromyalgia’s most common symptoms include chronic musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and increased sensitivity to tactile pressure.  Other symptoms associated with the disease can include anxiety, bowel disturbances, headaches, cognitive difficulties (commonly referred to as “fibro fog”), mood disorders, among others.  Fibromyalgia is not fatal, but its symptoms do not typically decrease in severity over time.

Because of the wide range of symptoms (which may not all be present in every patient:  some patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia have only a few of the long list of symptoms) and the lack of a true test for fibromyalgia, many researchers dispute its existence, arguing instead that these patients may be suffering from several different things which should be treated independently.  Some of the most frequently referenced disorders with symptoms similar to fibromyalgia include: chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic muscular headaches.

Because it is so varied and inconsistent in its presentation, there are a variety of strategies to treat fibromyalgia.  Psychological factors including work status, education, and coping strategies have been found to have a significant effect on the severity of how fibromyalgia presents itself, so counselling is one of the most effective and long-lasting treatments to consider.

Another relatively simple treatment is exercise.  Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to have significant positive effects on outcomes, as has Aquafit-style exercise which combines resistance and cardiovascular training.  For fibromyalgia sufferers who find a cold pool too painful, exercising in a heated pool is a great option.

There are also a range of drugs used to treat fibromyalgia:

  • Opioids are a common way to treat pain.  However, because of their highly-addictive nature, patients taking opioids should be very careful about developing a dependency, and should never exceed the doses prescribed by their doctor.
  • Antidepressants are commonly used to treat the mood-disorder component of fibromyalgia.  Antidepressants have also been demonstrated to improve the quality of sleep of fibromyalgia sufferers, and consequently help to treat the fatigue also associated with the disease.
  • Anticonvulsants are also used sometimes, but have a higher rate of problematic side effects, so are not always the best choice for all patients.