In recognition of Fibromyalgia Awareness Month, family physician Dr. Ali Ghahary has put together information on this chronic disorder – including who it affects, how it affects them, the most common symptoms, and the treatment options that are available.

As mentioned, fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, and is characterized as pain and/or tenderness throughout the body. In many cases, the cause if fibromyalgia is unknown, though in some instances it can be triggered after a traumatic event – such as emotional trauma, hormonal imbalances, sexual or physical abuse, viral diseases, and car accidents. That being said, because so little is known about what, exactly, causes fibromyalgia, it is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed all together. Because of the lack of information out there, patients with fibromyalgia may sometimes feel like their symptoms are all in their head, but it is a very real condition that can have a very real impact on one’s daily life. As many as 90 percent of fibromyalgia cases are diagnosed in women, though it can also affect men.

There is a long list of symptoms that are attributed to fibromyalgia, but the most common are as follows:

• Chronic widespread, unexplained pain
• Sleep disturbances
• Cognitive dysfunction
• Fatigue that is chronic/constant
• Depression and/or irritability
• Muscle spasms and/or cramping
• Headaches and/or migraines
• Balance problems
• Digestive problems
• Temperature sensitivities
• Itching and/or tingling sensation
• Frequent bowel movements (IBS)
• Frequent urination

Certain foods may also trigger your fibromyalgia pain, so Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends making sure you have a healthy diet. This means limit your sugar intake, avoid caffeine, and cut down on your carbohydrates.

Because some of these fibromyalgia symptoms can mimic those of other diseases or disorders, your doctor may seek to send you for additional testing just to make sure there are no other serious underlying medical conditions going on. Once that possibility has been completely eliminated, diagnosing fibromyalgia is based on the following: Generalized pain that lasts longer than 3 months, as well as pain when a certain amount of pressure is applied to at least 11 of the 18 tender points on the body.

Once you have a confirmed diagnosis of fibromyalgia, you will need to treat the symptoms. This includes intervention from your healthcare team, as well as self-care by making certain changes to your lifestyle and home. Eating healthy, as mentioned, as well as reducing stress, making sure you’re getting enough rest, enough exercise, but also being sure to pace yourself. Certain medications such as over-the-counter pain relievers, antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs are also commonly used to treat fibromyalgia. Patients may also benefit from physical and occupational therapy.