Fibromyalgia is a painful and chronic disorder that affects about 5 million people in the U.S., causing widespread discomfort and tenderness, among other symptoms. Although some of the symptoms may feel like arthritis, fibromyalgia does not cause the joint damage associated with arthritis. However, it can significantly affect a person's quality of life and their ability to carry on normal activities of daily living. About 80 percent to 90 percent of cases affect women, with men and children comprising the remaining cases.
The cause of fibromyalgia is not known, but research suggests chronic stress and traumatic injury, such as a car accident, may precipitate its development. Repetitive stress injuries and illnesses may also trigger fibromylagia. Many researchers have suggested genetic causes or problems with the way the central nervous system interprets and responds to pain signals.
In addition to widespread and chronic pain, patients with fibromyalgia typically experience other symptoms, such as:
cognitive issues, including memory problems and difficulty concentrating (so-called “fibro fog)
numbness in fingers or toes
irritable bowel syndrome
increased sensitivity to temperature extremes
restless leg syndrome
heightened sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises
Many patients have other chronic pain syndromes in addition to fibromyalgia, including temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), inflammatory bowel disease or interstitial cystitis.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but several medications are being used to help relieve symptoms, including medications used both to treat depression and to treat chronic pain caused by damage to the central nervous system. Individual symptoms may also be alleviated with medications to reduce pain and inflammation. For some patients, physical therapy may provide some relief.
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