Q My daughter has been feeling generally unwell for several years, and her doctor now thinks that she may have a condition called fibromyalgia. What is this, and is there anything that can alleviate the symptoms?
A Fibromyalgia is a rheumatic condition (like arthritis), even though it doesn't cause inflammation or joint damage. Hallmark symptoms include fatigue, and chronic pain from "tender points"--places on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs that hurt when touched. Other symptoms are nonspecific--for example, poor sleep, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and problems with thinking and memory that are often described as "fibro-fog".
The vague symptoms, along with the fact there is no lab test for fibromyalgia, mean that many people wait a year or longer for a diagnosis. In order to meet the American College of Rheumatology's criteria for fibromyalgia, a patient has to have widespread pain affecting the left, right, top, and bottom of their body for longer than three months, with no underlying disorder that would otherwise explain the pain.
Fibromyalgia treatment focuses on easing the pain with standard painkillers. Anti-seizure medications also may be helpful, and antidepressants can help sufferers sleep better. Lifestyle changes also can go a long way toward relieving the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia. Self-help strategies that are reported to help include physical activity, stress management (I suggest your daughterly meditation), and a healthful diet.
Rosanne M. Leipzig, MD, PhD