Fibromylagia: a world of pain

Mon, 04/09/2007 - 00:00
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When she was still a college student, Jessica was one of the most active
personalities in the campus. She joined the beauty contest, was in the
debating club, and qualified for the swimming team.

Suddenly life seemed to go wrong. She was taking her regular
morning bath when she felt a pain on her back. She went back to
bed and called her closest friend. “I can’t move easily without feeling
pain,” Jessica told her friend when she told her she would bring her to
the hospital.

For the next two months, Jessica was bedridden, her muscles stiff Doctors describe the pain as “deep muscular aching, throbbing,
twitching, stabbing and shooting.”

and swollen. When she was able to stand the pain, her family brought her to the hospital. There, doctors ran a battery of tests, looking for cancer, leukemia, anything. Finally, after a year, Jessica had a diagnosis: fibromyalgia.

Although not life-threatening, fibromyalgia is a chronic condition and is
characterized by fatigue and general pain. The most common sites of
pain include the neck, back, shoulders, pelvic girdle and hands, but any
body part can be involved.

Since the early-1800s, fibromyalgia has been studied and referred to by a
variety of former names, including muscular rheumatism and fibrositis.
The term “fibromyalgia” was coined in 1976 to more accurately describe the
symptoms: the Latin word “fibra,” means fiber, “myo,” muscle, and the Greek word “algos” denotes pain.

Though it's fairly common to hear many people complain of fatigue, the tiredness that accompanies fibromylagia is of a different order. Experts describe it as “an all-encompassing exhaustion that interferes with even the simplest daily activities.” As one sufferer puts it: “It feels like every drop of energy has been drained from my body, which at times leaves me with a limited ability to function both mentally and physically.”

As for pain, doctors describe it as “deep muscular aching, throbbing,
twitching, stabbing and shooting.” Neurological complaints such as
numbness, tingling and burning are often present and add to the discomfort
of the patient. The severity of the pain and stiffness is often worse in
the morning.

Additional symptoms may include sleeplessness, irritable bowel and
bladder, headaches and migraines, restless legs syndrome (periodic limb
movement disorder), impaired memory and concentration, skin sensitivities
and rashes, dry eyes and mouth, anxiety, depression, ringing in the ears,
dizziness, vision problems, Raynaud's Syndrome, neurological symptoms and
impaired coordination.

According to recent studies, symptoms tend to come and go. Periods when the condition flares may be followed by times when they occur less often
with less intensity, or are absent (remissions). Some people find that
their symptoms are worse in cold and damp weather, during times of stress,
or when they try to do too much.

In the Philippines, there are no statistics about fibromyalgia but in the United States, the condition affects an estimated 3-6 million people. Approximately, 80-90 percent of affected people are women. Unfortunately, many patients have a hard time getting a correct diagnosis since the exact causes are unclear, there is no blood test available and symptoms vary. In fact, patients in the past were once told that their condition was “all in their head.”

There are theories as to what may cause fibromyalgia, but at this point
there is not enough evidence to support any single cause. Some
researchers are focusing on trying to better understand the role of
chemicals such as hormones and neuropeptides, which convey pain messages from nerve cells to the spinal cord and the brain. Two such chemicals shown to be altered in fibromyalgia are substance P, which initiates pain signals after injury, and serotonin, which tones down the intensity of
pain signals. Studies have shown elevated levels of substance P and low
levels of serotonin in people with fibromyalgia.

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