There's no known cause, no blood test or X-ray to diagnose it, no magic pill to cure it -- so maybe it's no surprise that fibromyalgia is a disorder that's often misunderstood and sometimes unrecognized. Yet it's one of the most common chronic conditions, characterized by widespread pain and extreme fatigue, and it afflicts up to 10 million people in the USA, most of them women. Here's what else you need to know about fibromyalgia:
What does it feel like?
The pain can vary from a constant, dull ache to a stabbing shooting pain, typically arising from muscles. You'll feel it everywhere and even more so when you touch or press down on specific areas of your body, called tender points. These spots are found on the back of your head, the top of shoulders and between the blades, the front of the neck, the top of the chest, the outsides of elbows, the tops and sides of hips and the inner knees. Other symptoms: numbing, tingling and burning sensations, headaches, rashes, irritable bowel and bladder, and sleep, memory and mood problems.
How do I know if I have it?
If the pain is widespread - meaning it's on both sides of your body and above and below your waist; if it lasts more than three months; and if there are no other conditions that may be causing the pain, you may be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Your doctor will evaluate and consider all your symptoms, and he may run tests to rule out other conditions that could be causing such symptoms. Other criteria used to diagnose the disorder: The pain occurs in 11 tender points out of a possible 18.
How do I manage it?
A combination of regular and alternative medications can help manage the pain, experts say. Drugs used to treat epilepsy may help; pregabalin (Lyrica), for example, is FDA-approved to treat fibromyalgia. Certain prescription antidepressants also are prescribed to ease symptoms; over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) might work in some cases, too. Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and therapeutic massages, make a difference - recent research also suggests yoga, short bursts of exercise and even music therapy may help.
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