Fibromyalgia is far more likely to affect women than men as women account for approximately 75 to 90 percent of fibromyalgia diagnoses.2 There is no cure for the disease, but there are a number of treatment options that may help manage symptoms.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
One of the big challenges with fibromyalgia is that doctors do not know exactly what causes it, though they do have some strong ideas. Just as the condition has many different symptoms, it may also have many different causes. Currently, researchers believe that physical trauma, mental trauma, certain illnesses and genetics have a role in causing fibromyalgia.
Physical trauma is one possible cause of fibromyalgia. The trauma may be acute, such as from a car accident, or it can happen over time as with a repetitive stress injury caused by work or athletics.
Psychological trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may also be linked even if the psychological trauma does not have a physical component.
Illness or Genetics
People with certain illnesses and disorders may be more likely to develop fibromyalgia. Rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune disorders have the strongest correlation. It also tends to run in families, and research indicates that genetics layered with environmental factors plays an important role in the risk of developing fibromyalgia.3
How is Fibromyalgia treated?
For many patients, treating fibromyalgia may feel like a tall order. There are so many symptoms, and no single medication or treatment option is effective in managing them all. In order to address the diverse symptoms, doctors often assemble an individualized treatment plan that incorporates multiple therapeutic options, including lifestyle changes. The key areas of focus for fibromyalgia treatment are sleep, pain management, and psychological support.
People with fibromyalgia often have difficulty sleeping, and a lack of restful sleep may make it difficult for the body to recover. Improving sleep may have a positive overall effect on fibromyalgia symptoms.
For a better night’s rest, your doctor may suggest avoiding food or drink before bed, limiting caffeine consumption, or setting a specific time to go to bed and wake up, among other sleep-management tactics.
While no current medication can cure fibromyalgia, the FDA has approved some medications for the treatment of its symptoms. Pregabalin, duloxetine and milnacipran are medications that have been approved for fibromyalgia treatment. They are available by prescription as recognizable brand names.
For managing minor pain, your doctor may suggest appropriate over-the-counter pain relief medications. Always speak to your doctor about any medication you take including over-the-counter pain relievers.
Lifestyle changes may also help manage fibromyalgia symptoms, and they don’t necessarily need to be major changes. Exercising at the right time of day, for example, may make it easier to sleep at night, and we’ve already covered the importance of restful sleep.
According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, light exercise can help reduce symptoms.4 Here are a few tips:
- Start slowly. Moving a little more from one day to the next is good progress.
- Listen closely to your body. Don’t increase your activity too quickly. Start with just a few minutes of gentle exercise a day; then work your way up.
- Walking is a great form of exercise.
- Track your progress with a journal. Take note of the exercise you’re doing and how you feel both during and afterward.
- Stretch your muscles before and after exercise.
Psychological support should not be overlooked when it comes to treating chronic pain. Joining a support group allows you to connect with others who share the same challenges.
Some patients with fibromyalgia also pursue alternative treatment options including yoga, relaxation techniques and massage. Be sure to discuss these options with your doctor before moving forward.
What you eat can play an important role in managing fibromyalgia symptoms, especially avoiding foods that are known to contribute to inflammation. While there is no specific diet that works for all fibromyalgia sufferers, keeping a food journal (just like your exercise journal) can help you pinpoint food sensitivities (such as gluten, sugar and caffeine) that may exacerbate your symptoms. Your doctor may be able to suggest a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you formulate a diet plan specific to your needs.
In addition, maintaining a healthy weight can have a positive impact on sleep patterns as well as pain, and eating smaller, more frequent meals can help you maintain better energy levels throughout the day.5
As you can see, many of the treatment options for fibromyalgia are connected to one another. Better quality of rest, for example, may help alleviate both physical and mental symptoms of fibromyalgia. With less severe symptoms, it may be easier to pursue some of the other therapeutic options on our list. As always, remember that you should speak with your doctor before pursuing any treatment option that may affect your health. Real relief is possible with a comprehensive treatment plan in place.
3 Ablin JN, Cohen H, Buskila D. Mechanisms of Disease: genetics of fibromyalgia. Nat Clin Pract Rheumatol. 2006;2(12):671-8.
4 “Starting an Exercise Program with Fibromyalgia.” http://www.fmaware.org/articles/starting-an-exercise-program-with-fibromyalgia/. Accessed May 6, 2016.
5 Senna MK, Sallam, RA, Ashour, HS, Elarman, M. Effect of weight reduction on the quality of life in obese patients with fibromyalgia syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rheumatology. 2012 Nov. 31.