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The Mystery of Fibromyalgia

by The American Chiropractic Association

If you or your loved ones have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you may be wondering what the disorder means for you. The condition still remains a mystery, although an estimated 3 to 6% of Americans, predominantly women, have fibromyalgia syndrome. Even diagnosing the condition can be complex: according to the National Fibromyalgia Association. It can take a patient up to 4 years to be accurately diagnosed.

Fibromyalgia is typically diagnosed in patients with:

Widespread pain in all 4 quadrants of the body for a minimum of 3 months.

Tenderness or pain in at least 11 tender points when pressure is applied. These tender points cluster around the neck, shoulder, chest, hip, knee, and elbow regions.

Some fibromyalgia experts say, however, that many people may still have fibromyalgia with fewer than 11 tender points if they have widespread pain and several other common symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue

  • Sleep disorders

  • Chronic headaches

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Cognitive or memory impairment

  • Malaise and muscle pain after exertion

  • Jaw pain

  • Morning stiffness

  • Menstrual cramping

  • Irritable bowels

  • Numbness and tingling sensations

  • Skin and chemical sensitivities

    Correct Diagnosis Is Key

    Correct diagnosis of fibromyalgia is very elusive, so if you are diagnosed with the disorder-or suspect that you have it-seek the opinion of more than 1 health care provider. Other conditions may create fibromyalgia-like pain, fatigue, and other symptoms. Ruling other conditions out first is very important. In addition to clinical evaluation that will assess possible causes of your pain, your doctor may need to order blood work to determine if you have:

  • Anemia

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Lyme disease

  • Other rheumatic diseases

  • Hormonal imbalances

  • Allergies and nutritional deficiencies

  • Disorders that cause pain, fatigue, and other fibromyalgia-like symptoms.

    If the tests show that you have 1 of these conditions, treatment will focus on addressing that problem first. If your pain is caused by a muscle or joint condition, chiropractic care may help relieve it more effectively than other therapies.

    Treatment Alternatives

  • If no underlying cause for your symptoms can be identified, you may have classic fibromyalgia. The traditional allopathic approach includes a prescription of prednisone, anti-inflammatory agents, antidepressants, sleep medications, and muscle relaxants. These temporarily relieve the symptoms, but they do produce side effects. If you prefer a natural approach, the following suggestions may be helpful:

  • Studies have shown that a combination of 300 to 600 mg of magnesium per day, along with malic acid, may significantly reduce the number of tender points and the pain felt at those that remain. B vitamins may also be helpful.

  • Eating more omega-3 fatty acids and fewer saturated fats has shown promise in fibromyalgia patients. Limit red meat and saturated fats and increase the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids by including fish, flax, and walnut oils in your diet. Fatty acid deficiencies can interfere with the nervous system and brain function, resulting in depression and poor memory and concentration.

  • Improving the quality of sleep can help reduce fatigue. Watch your caffeine intake, especially before going to bed. Reduce TV and computer time. If you watch TV in the evening, choose relaxing, funny programs instead of programs with violent or disturbing content. Ask your doctor of chiropractic for other natural ways to help you sleep better.

  • Stress-managing strategies can also help address anxiety or depression issues. Cognitive therapy has been shown helpful in relieving fibromyalgia patients' negative emotions and depression by changing their perception of themselves and their attitudes toward others.
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