About 30 years ago, when I was in my mid-30s, I was experiencing fatigue and pain throughout my body. My old-time doctor attributed it to overwork and stress. One day I picked up a women’s magazine and read a cover story about fibromyalgia. The article, which showed an outline of a body with specific tender points indicated, stated that having most of these tender points was a sign of fibromyalgia. I had almost every one of the tender points, and when I read that fatigue and widespread pain throughout the body are symptoms of fibromyalgia, I was convinced I had found the answer to my problems.
I took the article to my family doctor. He said he wasn’t really sure that fibromyalgia existed, but he would refer me to a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist told me that I was lucky because my fibromyalgia was so mild. He said most of his patients were either bed-ridden or confined to a wheelchair, and since I was ambulatory and able to hold down a job, I should be thankful. Then he went on to prescribe a powerful drug that had been in the news because of its potential danger to cause heart attacks. If my fibromyalgia was so mild, why did I need such a potentially dangerous drug? I left, threw the prescription away, and never went back to the rheumatologist.
Through the years, I have managed my pain with over-the-counter medications, and on the rare occasions when that didn’t control the pain well enough to keep me functional, I would get a short-term prescription for stronger pain relievers. I seldom mentioned that I had fibromyalgia because I know so many people with the syndrome have so much more difficulty than I did. I’ve never posted about fibromyalgia awareness before—perhaps I felt like my “mild” fibromyalgia didn’t qualify me to speak about the condition.
However, in the last couple of years, my symptoms have been getting much worse. I’m on several prescription medications from my family doctor (not my doctor from 30 years ago who has long since retired) and have now accepted a referral to another rheumatologist. I’m writing this post is at the very end of the calendar day on Fibromyalgia Awareness Day because I have been in bed with heat and massage and pain pills for most of the week. I guess now I’m qualified to talk about the condition.
According to the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association:
Fibromyalgia (pronounced fy-bro-my-AL-ja) is a common and complex chronic pain disorder that affects people physically, mentally and socially. Fibromyalgia is a central nervous system illness and is also referred to as a syndrome rather than a disease. Unlike a disease, which is a medical condition with a specific cause or causes and recognizable signs and symptoms, a syndrome is a collection of signs, symptoms, and medical problems that tend to occur together but are not related to a specific, identifiable cause.
Fibromyalgia, which has also been referred to as fibromyalgia syndrome, fibromyositis and fibrositis, is characterized by chronic widespread pain, multiple tender points, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbances, fatigue and can be accompanied by psychological distress that comes with all chronic illnesses. For those with severe symptoms, fibromyalgia can be extremely debilitating and interfere with basic daily activities.
You can find more information on the association’s website.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or suspects they have it, learn all you can and take appropriate action. Medication may be needed, but lifestyle changes, such as managing sleep, diet, and exercise, can also help.
Each individual needs to find what is most effective for him or her. My next step is to lose weight—being overweight doesn’t cause fibromyalgia, but I know from experience that I tend to have less pain when I weigh less. The severe pain I have been experiencing should be a good motivator to get serious about losing weight!
Do you have or do you know someone who has fibromyalgia? If so, do you have any tips about dealing with this condition to share in comments?