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Q.

What is fibromyalgia? What are the risk factors for it? How is it treated and what type of practitioners treat it?

 

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A.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain, stiffness, and tender spots on the body. It also makes people tire quickly. It involves muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and it is difficult to diagnose because there is no definitive test for fibromyalgia. Muscle and body stiffness are usually worse in the morning and improve as the day goes on. Back, neck, or shoulder pain is common. Many people with fibromyalgia also have trouble sleeping and some have depression or anxiety.

We don’t know what causes fibromyalgia, and even the risk factors are not entirely clear. More women than men get fibromyalgia, and it usually develops in adulthood or middle age. A family history of fibromyalgia and a personal history of rheumatoid disease (such as arthritis or lupus) increase your risk. Some people believe that poor sleeping habits, mental or physical trauma, and repetitive activities (such as difficult physical labor or intense sports) increase the risk. Some research suggests a connection between Lyme disease and fibromyalgia, two conditions that are often confused because they have similar symptoms.

Treatment is aimed at controlling fibromyalgia’s symptoms, since there is no cure for the condition. The treatments you should have depend on your symptoms. Usually, muscle aches and stiffness are treated with heat, massage, stretching, and exercise. If those non-drug treatments don’t do the job, pain medications or steroid injections can be used. Relaxation and stress relief techniques can help reduce aches and pains and also lessen sleep problems, depression, and anxiety. Acupuncture gives some people relief from stiffness and pain. Also, medication can be used to treat sleep problems, depression, and anxiety.

You would likely benefit from seeing a team of health care professionals, including:

  • A doctor (MD or DO) or physician assistant to keep track of your overall health and prescribe medications as needed

  • A physical therapist to teach and oversee your exercise and stretching plan

  • A mental health counselor (optional) to help you manage sleep or mood problems

  • A licensed acupuncturist (optional) if acupuncture is helpful for you 

Beyond your medical team, there are many self-help groups and other peer organizations that support people living with fibromyalgia. Although fibromyalgia treatment is different for every individual, these groups can be helpful with common-sense tips and advice on how to manage your own care and find what works for you.

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