Finicky Joints or Fibromyalgia Pain? How to Tell When Something Is Seriously Wrong

With a history that dates back to the 1500s, it’s incredible to think that fibromyalgia wasn’t recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA) until 1987.

A greater understanding of the disease hasn’t accompanied that recognition. While fibromyalgia pain is very real to those with the disease, the medical community still doesn’t fully understand its causes.

Without a complete understanding of the mechanisms of fibromyalgia, diagnosis is difficult. But if you have widespread and unexplained pain, fibromyalgia might be the reason.

Although debilitating, fibromyalgia can be managed — once it’s determined to be the reason for your symptoms. Keep reading to find out more about this disease and how to have it diagnosed.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain. Fibromyalgia pain affects the muscles and bones as well as specific areas of tenderness, known as trigger points. That pain is often described as dull and consistent.

Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

General fatigue

Restlessness and trouble sleeping

Not feeling rested after sleep

Depression

Anxiety

Headaches

Problems with focus and concentration

Generally, you have to be experiencing pain and other symptoms for at least three months before a doctor would consider a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia isn’t life-threatening and doesn’t cause permanent damage to the joints, muscles, or bones. However, its symptoms can affect a persons ability to function normally and continue to meet their responsibilities at work, home, or school.

With the right diagnosis and treatment plan, the symptoms can be managed. Treatment typically involves a prescription medication such as lyrica along with lifestyle changes such as dietary changes and increased exercise. 

Risk Factors

It’s believed that fibromyalgia affects between 6 and 12 million Americans. While it can affect men, women, and children across all walks of life, it tends to affect some people more than others. 

The following risk factors may help you understand whether you’re more susceptible to fibromyalgia than others:

Family history — People who have family members with the disease are at a higher risk for developing it themselves. This is especially true if the afflicted relative is a parent or grandparent.

Gender — The majority of people with fibromyalgia are women between the ages of 40 and 75. In fact, women account for between 80 and 90 percent of all fibromyalgia cases.

Co-current disease — People suffering from a rheumatic disease like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis have a higher risk of fibromyalgia.

Trauma — Physical and/or emotional trauma may lead to the development of fibromyalgia. 

Stress — Stress causes disturbances in hormones that have been linked to fibromyalgia.

Infection — Infections and other illnesses can trigger the development of fibromyalgia. They might also make the symptoms of the disease worse.

While we do know that these risk factors are linked to fibromyalgia, science still doesn’t understand what causes fibromyalgia and what factors lead to its development. Some theorize that fibromyalgia is the result of changes to the pain threshold in the brain. Still, others believe that a chemical imbalance causes the brain to misinterpret normal pain signals.

Diagnosing Fibromyalgia Pain

Symptoms such as pain and fatigue are subjective. They’re only experienced by the person with the symptoms and doctors have no real way of measuring them. This inability to measure subjective symptoms means that fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed.

But there’s an even bigger problem with diagnosing this disease. There are no reproducible, objective, definitive tests for diagnosis. And this lack of quantifiable tests has led some in the medical community to dismiss its existence altogether.

To be sure, since being recognized by the AMA in 1987, the number of medical professionals that dismiss the disease has shrunk. But, if there aren’t any real tests, how can you get a diagnosis?

When you think you’re experiencing fibromyalgia pain, your doctor will explain trigger points to you. Also known as tender points, these are specific areas of the body where the pain is easily triggered. Even the application of light pressure in these areas can cause severe aches and pains.

There are 18 known trigger points. Some of the most common are:

Back of the head

Upper chest

Tops of shoulders

Outer elbows

Hips

Knees

In the past, doctors would use these trigger points to diagnose fibromyalgia. If a person had pain in 11 of the 18 points, then they were thought to have fibromyalgia. Barring, of course, that all other possible conditions had been ruled out.

Today, using trigger points as the sole test for fibromyalgia diagnosis is considered outdated. They still help doctors weed out other diagnoses, but there’s a timeframe now linked to fibromyalgia. If you’ve been experiencing pain for upwards of three months, and there’s no other explanation for the pain, your doctor will likely diagnose you with fibromyalgia.

Other Possible Causes

Before receiving a diagnosis for fibromyalgia, your doctor will make sure the pain isn’t caused by another condition. There are some conditions that present in the exact same ways as fibromyalgia symptoms. These include:

Hypothyroidism

Rheumatoid arthritis or lupus

Osteoarthritis

Ankylosing spondylitis

Polymyalgia rheumatica

All of these conditions cause widespread aches and pains as well as fatigue. Luckily, there are more definitive tests for these diseases. And that can help you get a diagnosis — and treatment — sooner.

When you approach your doctor with the possibility of fibromyalgia pain, they’ll first take a sample of your blood. They might also take x-rays to get a better look at your bones. After ruling out the above diagnoses, you’ll begin a course of treatment that can involve a combination of prescription medication, therapy for any underlying mental health conditions, as well as lifestyle changes.

Start Getting Healthier Today

Fibromyalgia pain is constant and, as such, can render a person incapable of carrying on with their everyday life. But it’s not always easy to diagnose. Without verifiable tests and diagnostic tools, doctors have to rule out other conditions and use trigger points and timelines to determine if you have fibromyalgia.

All that can take awhile. But you can start improving your symptoms with healthier habits. Check out our health programs blog for more information.

 



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