Written by Dr Rajiv Malhotra for Doctify

When your condition is invisible, its often hard to convince people of its impact on your life – or, in some cases, that it even exists. One such invisible condition is fibromyalgia and it can be debilitating.

Recently, songstress and icon Lady Gaga has announced that she is one such sufferer. She revealed her struggle ahead of the premiere of her new documentary by tweeting, “I wish to help raise awareness and connect people who have it. We can all share what helps/hurts.”

To help us understand exactly what fibromyalgia is and how to recognise it is Pain Management Specialist, Dr Rajiv Maholtra.

So, what actually is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a very common condition but we still do not know the underlying cause. Fibromyalgia is estimated to affect approximately 800,000 people in the UK and is a cause of prolonged pain and suffering.

Who gets fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia can affect anyone but is most likely to affect women and those between the ages of 20 and 50.

What are the symptoms?

Patients with fibromyalgia often have pain in multiple parts of the body, which can be constant and severe. Other symptoms include poor sleep, poor memory, a reduced ability to concentrate and associated problems such as ringing in the ears and a sore jaw.

Why is there often a delay in diagnosis of fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is often known as a ‘condition of exclusion’. This is because there are multiple other conditions, such as osteoarthritis or muscle disorders, that have similar symptoms. These conditions are often diagnosed by blood tests and scans, and so patients see multiple specialist doctors, which takes time. Once these are ruled out, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia can be considered.

How do you diagnose it?

There is no simple blood test or scan that can be performed to diagnose fibromyalgia. The diagnosis can only be made based upon the pattern of symptoms and the exclusion of other conditions.

Is fibromyalgia a real medical condition?

Previously, it was thought that fibromyalgia might be a mental health disorder. However, it is now recognized as a chronic pain disorder, just like chronic back pain or knee osteoarthritis.

What can be done to help?

There are European guidelines that recommend treatment strategies for people with fibromyalgia. Patient education, with a full explanation of this condition, is crucial. Exercise therapy is important in maintaining the strength and flexibility of muscles, and this can be assisted by physiotherapy. There are specific medications that are recommended by the guidelines and it is important to explore these in a systematic fashion. In some cases, targeted injections of local anaesthetic into tender muscles (under ultrasound imaging) can help patients who struggle to progress with physiotherapy or exercises sessions.

 


 

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