Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood condition that can cause a group of symptoms marked by widespread chronic body pain and usually accompanied by fatigue, cognitive disturbance and emotional distress.
Fibromyalgia does not cause inflammation or damage to the painful areas, but seems to be due to an overactive pain system.
- Diffuse and widespread pain – often described as a deep ache or burning that gets worse with activity or stress
- Pain that moves around the body
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Extreme tiredness
- Difficulties sleeping
- Problems with concentration and memory
For many people, fibromyalgia starts without an obvious cause. Some research suggests that the body may become extra sensitive in the way it signals and processes pain in people with fibromyalgia. Although anyone can be affected, it usually is seen in middle adulthood and is more common in women.
Fibromyalgia is often difficult to diagnose since there is no single test or examination for it. Diagnosis is usually based on the exclusion of other causes for the pain and symptoms. A pain specialist will look for a number of signs that are typical of fibromyalgia that does not fit any other condition.
While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, most people find with the right approach they are able to get some symptom relief and manage their condition. Treatment approaches include a combination of the following:
- Lifestyle: The best outcomes are seen in patients who play an active role in the treatment of their condition. Regular exercise reduces pain and tiredness so it is important to continue to be active. This has been shown in research and is the best way to help manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia. This, in turn, helps with improving sleep. Often seeing an exercise physiotherapist is a great way to begin as exercise should be introduced slowly and gradually and tailored to an individual’s ability and current fitness level. Water-based exercise is also another good option. Getting enough sleep, reducing caffeine intake and having a routine for sleep and waking up is also important. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables that is high in Omega-3 and includes drinking green tea, has also been shown in research to help ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Maintaining a healthy weight may also improves the symptoms of fibromyalgia. It is also highly recommended that if a patient with fibromyalgia is smoking, they work with their GP on quitting as this will have an impact on the pain a person experiences (Studies have shown that patients who smoke will report higher levels of pain compared to those who are non-smokers).
- Psychological support: This treatment approach can help patients learn how to manage stress, plan and pace activities so there is a balance between activity and rest. A psychologist who is trained in pain management will look to utilise therapies such as mindfulness and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
- Pharmacology: Whilst common pain medications such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory medications aren’t usually effective in reducing symptoms/pain associated with fibromyalgia, some patients have found that medications used to treat epilepsy or depression may be of some benefit (such as Pregablin (Lyrica), Gabapentin (Neurontin) or Amitriptyline). If a medication is prescribed by your pain specialist, it usually works best with the lifestyle changes as mentioned.
- Exercise Physiotherapy: It is essential for patients with fibromyalgia to keep active. The involvement of a trained exercise physiotherapist who specialises in chronic pain management will ensure the correct exercise regime/program is selected.
It is important to note that fibromyalgia affects people in different ways and one person’s response to treatment will be different from another person’s. Your pain specialist will work out a plan on how best to treat you and your symptoms.
**This information sheet has been written for patients affected by fibromyalgia and provides general information only**
References: Pain Australia; Arthritis Australia.