Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a chronic illness that causes pain throughout the body. It is diagnosed by having your doctor look for pain at certain "tender points" on your body. These points are found in the neck, back, shoulders, and hips, and other parts of the body. If you are tender at a certain number of these points, your doctor may feel you have FMS.
People with FMS may have fatigue, problems with sleep, morning stiffness, stomach upset, and other problems. Many patients also suffer from depression or anxiety. It may affect three to six million Americans and is seven times more common in women than in men. The reason for this is unknown. Children may have it as well.
Doctors do not yet know what causes FMS, but they have some ideas. The brain and spinal cord have circuits that help reduce the amount of pain we feel. These circuits may not work well. Some doctors think that trauma to the brain or spinal cord may cause it. Others think hormone levels that are not normal can be the cause. Low blood pressure, very mobile ("stretchy") joints and ligaments, and infections have all been looked at as causes. There is research going on to look for the cause of FMS.
Other diseases can look like FMS, and your doctor will make sure you do not have them before diagnosing it. When checking your health history, your doctor will be looking for chronic pain that has lasted for more than three months and involves at least three-fourths of the body. You must be tender in at least 11 of 18 tender point sites.
You, your doctor and your physical therapist all play an active role in the treatment of your FMS. The most helpful treatment is rehabilitation, mainly light aerobic exercise. Studies have shown that swimming or walking can reduce pain and tenderness and improve fitness. It can also help sleep patterns. Exercise can be painful at first. You may need to start with as little as five minutes, working towards a goal of twenty or thirty minutes four or more times a week. At first you should work with a physical therapist, often as part of a larger rehabilitation team.
Drugs can be given to treat depression, improve sleep and relax muscles. Some pain medicines may be useful, but they work best when used with non-drug treatments. Heat, cold, massage, and acupuncture may give short-term relief, though they do not cure FMS. Most people find the greatest help by combining exercise, medication, and relaxation.
If you have problems with anxiety or depression, your doctor may suggest some visits to a counselor. They can help you to learn new ways to cope with your pain, like relaxation techniques and biofeedback. They may provide advice and support to help you deal with stressful parts of your life.
The goal of treatment is to help you to live with your FMS. Your treatment team will work with you to reach a higher level of function at work, at home, and throughout your daily life. They will help you to have less pain if they can. There is no known cure for FMS, so we cannot expect your symptoms to go away. By working with your doctor and therapists, you should be able to function better and enjoy your life.
You can find out more about fibromyalgia from:
1330 West Peachtree Street
Atlanta, GA 30309
Or, call your local chapter, listed in the phone book
Fibromyalgia Alliance of America
PO Box 21990
Columbus, OH 43221-0990
PO Box 31750
Tucson, AZ 85751-1750
National Fibromyalgia Partnership
140 Zinn Way
Linden, Virginia USA 22642-5609
Toll Free Phone: 866-725-4404
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 08/10/2011
Copyright © 08/10/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5641
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