Approximately 5 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the disease remains one of the least understood medical conditions in modern science. Women are five times more likely to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia than men. May 12th was National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, a day for people experiencing fibromyalgia to tell their stories and for scientists to explore what is known — and what remains to be investigated — regarding this illness.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a complex condition with many symptoms. Scientists still don’t entirely know what causes fibromyalgia, as attempts to identify a biological mechanism for the illness have failed thus far. However, looking at associated diseases and symptoms have provided clues as to the causes of fibromyalgia.
First, it is possible that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune condition similar to rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. In fact, these medical conditions often co-occur with fibromyalgia, suggesting that they may have similar origins.
Fibromyalgia also appears to have a genetic component. The disease tends to run in families, meaning that if you have a parent or sibling with fibromyalgia, you are also at greater risk. However, specific genes linked to the disorder have not yet been found.
Another factor that may contribute to risk of fibromyalgia is a history of physical or emotional trauma. Emotional or physical trauma may make the body and mind more sensitive to the experience of pain; indeed, patients with fibromyalgia often exhibit changes to the nervous system that lower their pain thresholds.
Fibromyalgia is Treatable
We often see patients at the Waismann Method Center who have struggled with fibromyalgia for years before getting a proper diagnosis. Fortunately, fibromyalgia is treatable in many cases. The CDC recommends aerobic exercise and exercises to strengthen the muscles, as these have been shown to reduce pain and improve overall well-being. Additionally, antidepressant medications have worked for some people who suffer from fibromyalgia. Cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation therapy, biofeedback, and other psychotherapeutic approaches have also been effective.
Although fibromyalgia patients may take over-the-counter medications to alleviate symptoms, we strongly caution people to avoid taking prescription opiate painkillers to alleviate their pain symptoms. Pain pills have a high addictive potential, making people with fibromyalgia at higher risk of developing opiate dependence.