What You Need to Know About Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia was first discovered more than 100 years ago, and to this day, no matter how real the symptoms are, many doctors dispute its legitimacy. Thankfully, new research has shown fibromyalgia may be a result of a hyper-aware nervous system that has more in common with epilepsy than musculoskeletal conditions. Regardless of how fibromyalgia is classified, understanding the secondary complications of this chronic illness can help you find the right doctor and treatment plan.
Fibromyalgia and its daily impacts
Fibromyalgia most commonly displays itself as a condition that causes widespread, flu-like pain, tender points in the muscles, extreme fatigue, insomnia or poor sleep quality and cognitive issues, such as inability to concentrate or focus for long periods, also known as "fibro-fog."
Diagnosis and treatment is often difficult because these symptoms rarely show up on standard imaging equipment used to diagnose musculoskeletal conditions. This lack of proof makes fibromyalgia effectively an invisible condition and gives some doctors license to cast doubt on the validity of a patient’s suffering.
It’s thought that fibromyalgia is brought on by physical trauma or injury that hyper activates the nervous system. However, for some patients, no root cause can be found, which leads an increasing number of doctors to believe this condition could be hereditary.
To make matters worse, when a patient is diagnosed with fibromyalgia, there are often secondary complications, or comorbidities, which create a patient record that looks more like a medical textbook than a chart. Most often, it’s the same doctor treating all these conditions, which makes it important the patient understands the secondary complications of this condition:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) impacts the large intestine causing pain, bloating, excessive gas and intermittent constipation and diarrhea that can impact daily activities.
- Chronic pain syndrome is commonly confused with fibromyalgia; often patients with one condition have the other. This condition also comes with its own complications that can further confuse treatment plans.
- Interstitial cystitis causes stiffening of the bladder walls, which induces poor bladder function and chronic pelvic pain.
- Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) and migraines. TMJ is a condition that causes pain in one or both sides of the jaw and may include limited jaw movement, stiffness or clicking. This condition can also accompany migraines, or in some cases, migraines are completely separate without the presence of TMJ.
- Anxiety, depression and mood disturbances. Doctors’ understanding of the connection between these conditions and fibromyalgia is constantly developing as research continues, but the highs and lows of moods, chronic anxiety and other mental health conditions can be exaggerated by experiencing fibromyalgia. It’s still unclear if this is part of the condition or if these issues occur as a result of stress caused by living with a painful chronic condition.
- Postural tachycardia syndrome is something we have all experienced at one time or another but never realized it had a name. This is a momentary feeling of lightheadedness when standing up. For people living with fibromyalgia, this can happen every time we stand up and become a regular occurrence.
The better you understand the secondary complications, the easier it will be for your doctor to properly manage your symptoms to improve your quality of life. But while many of these conditions are treatable, doing so may leave you taking multiple medications each day which is why most physicians try to find treatments to address the primary cause of these secondary conditions. This is also why doctors often mistake someone suffering from fibromyalgia for a hypochondriac or substance abuser seeking narcotics.
Documenting your symptoms
To overcome these stereotypes, it’s essential you accurately document your symptoms and find a doctor who takes you seriously. Oftentimes, getting your fibromyalgia under control is enough to reduce the worst symptoms of other complications, but seeking the help of specialists in the areas of your secondary complications can help to weed out what symptoms are caused by which condition.
This process can leave you feeling like you spend more time in the waiting room than at home, but don’t give up hope. Your conditions can be treated and once the causes are identified, you will soon get back to living a healthy and active lifestyle.