Health & Fitness
KIM DAMEDealing with chronic pain has become part of life for Amber Andrews. Diagnosed at just 15 with fibromyalgia, Andrews has lived with the syndrome for seven years, learning to cope with debilitating pain and lack of energy on a daily basis.
Published: February 28, 2013
Published: February 28, 2013
"When I was young I was very active," Andrews said. "I had intense bouts of energy, mostly from my severe case of ADHD. But when I reached puberty, my energy went down drastically, and I started having severe muscle pain."
She underwent an evaluation that tested the sensitivity of eleven pressure points on her body. "I am one of the few people unlucky enough to be tender in all eleven," she said. "My weakest are the back of my neck and ribs."
According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, fibromyalgia is a common syndrome that causes long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues.
Fibromyalgia has been around for more than 200 years but remained a mystery illness until1970. Until then, theories about its cause and symptoms were broadly discussed but only confirmed in recent decades.
Fibromyalga, though real to those who suffer, was difficult to understand because its signs and symptoms aren't visible. Recent breakthroughs in modern medicine and technology, however, have significantly clarified the commonalities shared by fibromyalgia sufferers.
Pain is the main symptom of fibromyalgia and can be mild to severe. Areas affected are referred to as tender points found in soft tissue on the back of the neck, shoulders, chest, lower back, hips, shins, elbows and knees.
The pain has been described as a deep ache or a shooting, burning pain that spreads from the tender points. And although it may feel like joint pain, joints are actually not affected.
Fibromyalgia is reported to affect more than 5 million people, according to the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. It is typically seen in middle aged women, about 3.4 percent of the female population compared to .5 percent of men, with some cases, like Andrews, showing up in children and teens.
While the specific cause of fibromyalgia is still unclear, there appears to be a link between certain situations and the onset of symptoms. For instance, a stressful or traumatic event, like a car accident or sudden death of a loved one, has been known to precede the onset of pain associated with fibromyalgia.
Dr. Qantan Abdulfattah MD, known by his patients as Dr. Fattah, is a neurologist whose practice serves many patients with varying neurological disorders. "From headaches to numbness to back pain, we see all neurological disorders," he said. "And fibromyalgia is one of them."
"Fibromyalgia means muscle pain," Fattah said, "and that's it; muscle pain in multiple areas of the body."
Through his experience working with fibromyalgia patients, Fattah believes there is a direct link between the syndrome and other psychological problems. "Most if not all patients who have fibromyalgia are depressed," he said. "They have a lot of stress and anxiety in their lives."
Fibromyalgia may also have some hormonal properties, he said, since many patients he sees diagnosed are older females.
While pain is the prevalent symptom, many who suffer from fibromyalgia also experience other symptoms that overlap. For instance, they may wake up with body aches and stiffness, have difficulty sleeping, suffer from headaches and migraines, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet or have difficulty focusing, sometimes called "fibro fog."
Some may also experience digestive difficulties, dry eye or mouth, irritable bowel or bladder, skin sensitivities, memory lapses and restless leg syndrome.
For some patients, pain improves during the day and gets worse at night while others feel pain regularly throughout the day. Some experience increased pain in certain situations, like increased activity, cold or damp weather, or might be brought on by anxiety and stress.
Certain other medical conditions coincide with fibromyalgia symptoms. They include rheumatoid arthritis, Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), and Ankylosing spondvlitis (spinal arthritis).
It is important to note that symptoms of fibromyalgia vary from person to person, which is why the list is so widespread. Some sufferers experience emotional problems, issues with digestion or sleep disturbances. Others do not. It is also possible to experience a majority of symptoms associated with fibromyalgia and not actually have the syndrome.
Because many of the symptoms overlap with other conditions and illnesses, it can be difficult to pinpoint fibromyalgia as the definitive cause.
Moreover, fibromyalgia can also exist with other conditions, like Sjogren's disease, which might make it difficult to isolate which symptoms are actually due to the syndrome.
The only way to accurately identify fibromyalgia as the cause of symptoms is though a medical diagnosis. "There is no test for fibromyalgia," Fattah said. "It is a clinical diagnosis."
Once a diagnosis is made, Fattah said, a pain management plan can then be put into place. Medication regiments are utilized as well as incorporating certain nutritional and fitness routines into the lifestyle.
"Most people respond to treatment," he said.
Amber Andrews has found that sticking to a healthier lifestyle helps manage her symptoms. "I try to stay active, try to eat healthy, and try to have enough hobbies to distract myself," she said. "For fibromyalgia, I stick to comfortable beds at night and Tylenol and ibuprofen on bad days."
For more information about fibromyalgia or Dr. Abdulfattah, visit clinic's website at www.myneurologyclinic.com. The office is located at 11323 Cortez Boulevard in Brooksville, FL 34613.
Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at Damewrites@yahoo.com.