Improving Quality of Life with Fibromyalgia

People with fibromyalgia can improve how they feel. “This may seem out of reach when you’re feeling hopeless and depressed, but it’s true,” said Twin Cities Pain Clinic Nurse Practitioner and fibromyalgia specialist, Nancy Cleveland. “The first step is to rule out other more life-threatening diseases because the symptoms can be similar to so many other illnesses.” 

What is Fibromyalgia? Fibromyalgia (fi-bro-my-al-gee-uh) is a disorder that causes pain in your muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons. the pain is especially intense when pressure is applied to areas called “tender points.” Common tender points are the back of the head, the elbows, the shoulders, the knees, the hip joints, and around the neck.

Fibromyalgia affects around 3-6% of he population in the United States. This disorder might be hereditary, so you may have family members with similar symptoms. More women than men have fibromyalgia. 

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia? Increased sensitivity to pain is the main symptom of fibromyalgia. Many other symptoms also occur in people with this disorder. Symptoms may come and go- here are a few of them:

You may have some degree of constant pain, but the pain may get worse in response to activity, stress, weather changes and other factors. You may have a deep ache or a burning pain. You may have muscle tightening or spasms. Many people have migratory pain (pain that moves around the body.)

Most people with fibryomyalgia feel tired or fatigued. This fatigue may be mild or very severe. You may also have trouble sleeping, which may add to the fatigue.

Depression or anxiety may also occur as a result of your constant pain and fatigue, or the frustrations you feel with the condition. “Depression is huge. No one can see your source of pain, but you know it’s real,” said Cleveland, who sees multiple patients a week with fibromyalgia. “Psychotherapy sessions can be a tremendous help. It’s an important step in getting over this huge hurdle and on your way to developing coping skills.”

The good news is that fibromyalgia does not cause any permanent damage to the muscles and organs. This is not a life-threatening disease, but it is chronic. Although there is no cure, there are many things you can do to feel better.

What can I do to relieve my symptoms? Find an exercise that gets all your body moving and do it consistently, according to Cleveland. Yoga classes, warm water therapy, swimming, and low-impact aerobic exercises are among the best things you can do. “The important lesson here is to not overdo it when you’re feeling good,” said Cleveland. “This can lead you to have several bad days. It is more important to find out how much you can exercise and remain consistent on good and bad days. You will want to strike a balance.” Many people find that a routine time to eat, sleep, and exercise helps to ease their symptoms.

You may need to begin at a very low level of exercise (5 minutes every day is helpful at first). Continue to increase the length and frequency of exercise until you are exercising for at least 30 to 60 minutes, 3 to 4 times a week. Once you reach this point you can consider switching to higher-impact exercise, like walking, jogging and tennis. A physical therapist experienced in treating fibromyalgia can help you develop an exercise regime to follow at home.

Because the symptoms of fibromyalgia are made worse by stress and poor sleep, it is important to cut stress out of your life whenever possible and to get as much sleep as you need. Since alcohol and caffeine can contribute to poor sleep, avoid these substances around bedtime. 

Is there any medicine I can take to help my symptoms? Several medicines can help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Many of these medicines are taken before bedtime and help reduce pain and improve sleep.

Your doctor may recommend treating your symptoms with acetaminophen (one brand: Tylenol) first. He or she may also prescribe another medicine for you to take, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines are not usually effective in treating fibromyalgia when taken alone. 

“In addition to all these steps, you need to have the mental mindset to do the things that will help improve your pain symptoms,” said Cleveland. “That means choosing something even if you’re not feeling up to it and appreciating the good things, even if it’s just the weather. It goes a long way in improving your psyche.”

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