Video: What is Fibromyalgia?

Video presented by Zinovy Meyler, DO

Video Transcript

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain that is usually accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues. Now, historically fibromyalgia was a diagnosis that was given when it wasn't clear what the true diagnosis was. In fact, a lot of doctors didn't believe in the diagnosis as a true diagnosis, it was more a diagnosis of "we don't know what is going on, so this is probably what is causing your pain." It is now, over time and mainly through a lot of research, that we are beginning to understand what fibromyalgia is, the reason that it happens, and really the pathophysiology that is involved in it and it is that understanding that helps us treat the fibromyalgia.

Research has found that fibromyalgia actually amplifies the painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals. In other words, what you may feel as painful, other people would not feel as painful and would just feel as pressure or other non-painful stimulus.

Symptoms, at times, begin after physical trauma, surgery, infection, or actually significant psychological stress sometimes can set off the start of fibromyalgia-type symptoms. In other cases, of course, the events gradually occur over time and the fibromyalgia-type symptoms really start over time and gradually increase as opposed to a single triggering event. Now, statistically speaking, women are much more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men and it is through research and development of new medications as well as learning how the medications that we have are affecting fibromyalgia-type symptoms that we are now understanding the process of fibromyalgia as well as learning how to treat it.

The pain associated with fibromyalgia is often described as a constant dull ache, typically it arises from muscles or muscles and connective tissues, but many times it is difficult to decipher one from another. To be considered widespread, as it usually is in fibromyalgia, the pain must occur on both sides of the body and it should be above and below the waist. Fibromyalgia is characterized by additional pain during examination when firm pressure is applied to specific areas of the body.

Fibromyalgia itself comes with constellation of other symptoms and other effects on the body. For instance, one of the big additional symptoms that most people complain about is fatigue and sleep disturbances. So people with fibromyalgia often will wake tired even though they report sleeping for a long period of time, in fact some report sleeping for a longer period of time. Sometimes, however, if the pain gets to be more severe, the sleep is disrupted by pain and that, of course, causes more fatigue and more amplification of pain. Many patients with fibromyalgia actually have sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea that can also worsen symptoms. Many people with fibromyalgia also report other disorders, such as constant chronic fatigue, anxiety, sometimes depression, also headaches are common, and some people report irritable bowel syndrome to be closely related with fibromyalgia.

Now, there isn't a clear understanding of what causes fibromyalgia, but there is a very good understanding of how fibromyalgia works and how to actually treat fibromyalgia. What we do know is that there are several things that affect fibromyalgia onset. Part of it is genetics. It seems that fibromyalgia tends to run in the families, so there are bound to be certain genetic mutations, perhaps, that are transmitted within a family. Infections or trauma - some illnesses can appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia. And, as I mentioned before, physical or emotional trauma can cause similar symptoms to post-traumatic stress disorder and can trigger fibromyalgia.

Now, fibromyalgia itself doesn't really lead to any other diseases, however, it's important to understand that fibromyalgia is poorly understood and, at times, patients seem to feel isolated and, because it can interfere with the ability to function at home or on the job, it is often very frustrating for people to deal with the symptoms and also to approach a doctor who understands how to treat fibromyalgia and to start finding the different modalities and different medications that can help. And those modalities are usually a combination - a combination of medications that can treat pain that is associated with amplification of pain and, in other words, modulating the pain sensations through altering the way the nervous system works, as well as relaxation, exercises, stress reduction, controlling the depression and health-related anxiety. By using all of that together, fibromyalgia can be controlled and the main goal is to reintegrate the patient back into everyday life, including life at home and on the job.