Have you been tired, achy and out-of-sorts? See your doctor ASAP if you also have tender areas. It could be fibromyalgia, and here’s why you shouldn’t ignore the pain.
If left untreated, chronic pain could cause permanent changes in how the body perceives pain. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent further disruptions in the body’s pain-signaling system. The good news? Swedish research suggests that the earlier fibromyalgia pain is treated, the greater the chances that you’ll respond to certain drug treatments.
About 2% to 4% of Americans, mostly women, have fibromyalgia, according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). Most are diagnosed during middle age, and your risk may be higher if you have rheumatic diseases such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or ankylosing spondylitis (spinal arthritis). Another red flag: You’ve had a recent trauma such as a car accident or prolonged hospitalization, which may trigger the onset of fibromyalgia in some people.
Although there’s no cure for fibromyalgia, there are effective ways to control the symptoms. According to the ACR, these include:
Medication. Some fibromyalgia drugs alter brain chemicals (serotonin and norepinephrine) involved in pain processing. Other drugs work by blocking the overactivity of nerve cells involved in pain transmission. Sleeping medications and, occasionally, painkillers are also prescribed.
Exercise. Although exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing, regular activity often reduces pain, stiffness and fatigue. The key is to start slowly and build in more movement—for example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking the parking spot farthest from the entrance. Even chores like laundry can count!
Therapy for your body. Yoga, massage and acupuncture may help relieve pain, muscle spasms and stiffness. Just be sure to clear them with your healthcare provider first.
Therapy for your mind. Some people benefit from seeing a mental health professional to learn ways to cope with chronic pain and fatigue. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often recommended to help you change negative thoughts.
See your doctor if you have any of these common symptoms:
- widespread pain lasting more than three months
- tender areas throughout your body that hurt when touched
- sleep or memory problems
- restless legs syndrome
- headaches or irritable bowel syndrome
- sensitivity to temperature, loud noises or bright lights
- numbness or tingling of the extremities