What is Fibromyalgia?

In this discussion I sat down with a volunteer who has extensively suffered from fibromyalgia to better understand and empathize with individuals experiencing this medical disorder. In accordance with this, I highlighted many of the comments stated and what was learned throughout this dialogue. Full privacy and confidentiality relating to patient demographics was fulfilled, in keeping with HIPPA guidelines.

“Fibromyalgia is not just pain and feeling uncomfortable”

Diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia is defined as “widespread pain throughout your body for at least three months”, with “widespread” being defined as pain on all sides of your body; front, back, above and below your waist. Fibromyalgia holds a broad range of symptoms that could express in various individuals, but it’s difficult to simply boil it down to “pain” or “discomfort”. Fibromyalgia is muscle pain, twitching, tightness, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating on tasks, and possibly experiencing psychological symptoms such as nervousness or depression. Individuals who experience fibromyalgia can be characterized by widespread discomfort, and a baseline level of pain throughout their body. These experiences enveloped in fibromyalgia can also shift throughout the lifetime. For example, one person may be able to function seemingly without any limitations, while another person can be completely paralyzed by it.

Furthermore, there are three types of Fibromyalgia that one can experience: hyperalgesia, allodynia, and paresthesia. Hyperalgesia is the increased abnormality to pain sensitivity that causes individuals to feel pain quicker and for lengthier periods of time. Essentially, hyperalgesia contains the most common characteristics of this clinical syndrome. Allodynia is different as it does not cause the traditional expression of pain. As opposed to sharp/chronic pain, this is better illustrated as a hypersensitive stinging sensation all over the skin. Lastly, paresthesia typically concerns numbness or a prickling sensation that causes discomfort and agony. Overall, the main theme portrayed in this conversation was that fibromyalgia has a diverse array of symptoms and expressions that should not be limited to only “pain”.

“Fibromyalgia is real, it’s not something people just make up”

Although the current etiological foundations of fibromyalgia are continued to be researched, we do have evidence that this medical disorder is real and has physiological basis. From our current understanding one of the etiological theories concerning fibromyalgia is central sensitization. It appears that the Central Nervous System’s signaling, and the components of the pain processing system, such as the nociceptors, Substance P, the parietal lobe, and the dorsal horn of the spinal cord are increased in excitability after a painful stimulus. Essentially, what this means is that in Fibromyalgia, action potentials carrying pain signals are transmitted to wider areas across the body, received faster and perceived as more intense than usual even if there might not be any pain at all in that area of the body. Additionally, the descending inhibitory pain pathway, which assists in regulating responses to painful stimuli seems to be malfunctioning in patients with fibromyalgia. This impairment further exacerbates the process of central sensitization.

It is important to note that this is only one etiological course that has been discussed. Other explanations involve irregular cortisol levels, low growth hormones, neuroinflammation, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and even genetic predisposition.

“Fibromyalgia impacts many individuals, not just women”

One of the most impactful pieces of information learned through this interview was that the prevalence rate for Fibromyalgia is roughly 4% to 6% of the population and that an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. are affected and diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Additionally, both men and children can be diagnosed with this medical disorder, but most of the time women are the ones most effected (75% – 90%). Fibromyalgia can also lead to an overall decreased quality of life in economic, social, and personal settings, as well as less participation in behavioral activation activities, and increased mental health difficulties.

“Treatment for Fibromyalgia does exist!”

The most common medication typically used for treating fibromyalgia is Cymbalta (Duloxetine), Savella (Milnacipran), and Lyrica (Pregabalin). Likewise, routine exercise regimens can also alleviate symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. However, it is recommended to speak to your primary care physician first before engaging in any pharmaceutical or physiological treatment, as some therapies can increase fatigue or pain flares. Additionally, as investigators dive deeper into the fields of pathophysiology and fibrositis, more opportunities present themselves for patients of this condition to utilize research as a care option for alleviating some of the factors associated with this condition and gaining insight! If you or someone you know experiences fibromyalgia there is treatment and support available!

To learn more about options at Segal Trials, visit our Enrolling Studies.

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