Although its symptoms are similar to those of articular conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia is classified as a form of rheumatism in muscles, ligaments and tendons that surround the joints. Its main manifestations are intense pain in the affected areas, difficulty in sleeping and excessive fatigue.
Fibromyalgia has been described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a chronic rheumatic disease characterized by severe pain in one or several areas of the body, such as neck, shoulders, spine, arms, hips, elbows, knees and ankles; likewise, it causes excessive fatigue, to the extent that the affected person does not tolerate even minimal efforts.
Now, pain caused by fibromyalgia usually affects areas where the muscles attach to bone or ligaments, and is similar to that caused by arthritis; however, it does not deform or deteriorate the joints. It is common that the disease is present in a single region, usually manifests in the shoulders or neck and, later, extends to the rest of the body; said discomfort may vary, depending on the time of day, weather changes, physical activity and stress.
Other important symptoms are fatigue and sleep disorders, as most patients complain of weakness and poor sleep, conditions that increase pain. Likewise, approximately one third of patients suffer from depression, mood swings, dizziness, tingling or numbness of hands and feet, colitis (inflammation of the colon or part of the large intestine that attaches to the rectum), diarrhea, constipation and, occasionally, migraine.
The causes of fibromyalgia are not known, but scientists who study this condition believe that it is not a disease itself, but an alteration caused by organic responses to stress and depressive episodes.
On the other hand, cases of fibromyalgia manifested after having suffered infections caused by bacteria or viruses, car accidents, divorce, financial or school problems, or as a consequence of certain diseases, for example, systemic lupus erythematosus ( disorder that causes damage to joints, muscles, skin and almost all organs). Other factors that have been associated with the appearance of the condition, according to some theories and research, include:
Abnormalities in the brain. Encephalon studies performed on patients show that in some areas of this organ (which are related to the sensation of pain) there is a reduction in blood flow; also, it is said that sometimes the functioning of neurotransmitters (substances that act as messengers of neurons, such as serotonin, responsible for regulating the state of mind and state of well-being) presents abnormalities.
Family background. It has been observed that in the same family there are several affected.
Autoimmunity In some patients, the production of antibodies that attack the organism itself, specifically the neurological and hormonal systems, has been identified; however, there is no evidence that this is a primary cause of fibromyalgia.
Chronic sleep disorder. It is considered that the poor quality of sleep can have repercussions in the regions of the immune system (the one that defends us from external aggressions) that control inflammation, pain and fatigue.
It is important to clarify that these factors do not cause the disease, but it is thought that they are probably responsible for “waking up” in people who suffer from hidden abnormalities in the regulation of pain receptors (located in nerves).
How is fibromyalgia detected and what can be done?
If the aforementioned symptoms occur, it is necessary to go to the rheumatologist (specialist in diseases that damage joints and tissues that surround them), who will always take into account the personal and family medical history, which should include psychological profile and description of each factor. that could be indicative of other alterations other than fibromyalgia, such as changes in body weight, physical injuries, infectious diseases, muscle weakness, rashes and addictions (alcohol, tobacco or drugs).
Afterwards, the specialist will perform a thorough physical examination, which consists in exerting pressure in the areas where pain usually occurs; also, check nails, skin, joints, muscles and bones. It should be noted that when the patient with fibromyalgia is asked for clinical tests and radiographs, they show normal results; however, they are necessary to rule out arthritis or lupus, conditions that can be detected using these tools.
Once the doctor has no doubt about the presence of fibromyalgia, recommend some measures to alleviate the symptoms and improve the quality of life of the patient, because at present there is no treatment that will definitely cure it. The control program proposed by rheumatologists regularly contemplates:
Medicine administration. Analgesics are included to reduce pain and, in some cases, antidepressants, since these increase the levels of serotonin in the brain and this improves the symptoms of the patients.
Avoid the factors that aggravate the symptoms. In general, if there are alterations when walking (for example, if one leg is shorter than another), it will be necessary to correct them by using templates or special footwear; Also, you should try to adopt comfortable postures that do not force the muscles and avoid lifting heavy things.
Weight control. Obesity causes muscles and tendons to strain and keep rigid, so it is recommended that those who are in this situation go to the nutritionist and / or endocrinologist to design a weight loss program.
Psychotherapy. Therapeutic method that consists of helping, directing and teaching the patient to strengthen himself and reestablish his capacity for integration so that he can adequately handle stressful situations, free anxiety and overcome depressive episodes; This can be supported by the administration of antidepressants or anxiolytics, a treatment that must be monitored by the psychiatrist.
Exercise. Physical activity is highly beneficial, as it helps the muscles to strengthen and improve the ailments caused by the disease, but it is very important to have the advice of a therapist or instructor to avoid that the affected person is injured or makes great efforts.
Although there is still no cure for fibromyalgia, it must be taken into account that the condition of patients, in most cases, improves considerably if they follow the doctor’s instructions.