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What is Fibromyalgia?

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Millions of Americans are living with a condition that is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, known as Fibromyalgia.  The American College of Rheumatology estimates that 6 million (or 1 in 50) Americans suffer from this debilitating condition, with women being affected 9 times as often as men.  However, the National Foundation for Fibromyalgia believes that as many as 12 million Americans suffer from Fibromyalgia but go undiagnosed due to its elusive nature.  This means that many people walk around in constant pain and not understanding why.

Fibromyalgia Syndrome is very debilitating, and it often gets progressively worse.  Because of its debilitating nature, Fibromyalgia affects not only the patient, but the people around that patient.  Family members, co-workers, and children are very much affected by Fibromyalgia.  This affect comes in many levels and in varying degrees, but the most affected are the spouses as they watch their loved one in pain.

More often than not, Fibromyalgia sufferers have difficulty performing their normal daily activities.  Sure, they are able to clean the house a bit, but they pay for it for afterwards.  They have trouble attending church functions or kids sporting events because it may hurt them to stand just as bad as it does to sit on the bench or church pew.  It affects every aspect of their life.

So what exactly is fibromyalgia?  If you were to look up its definition in a medical dictionary, it would be defined as “an increasingly recognizable chronic illness condition that is characterized by widespread pain, tenderness, fatigue, stiffness and sleep disturbances to name just a few symptomatologies.”  But let’s break that definition down into understandable terms.  Pain is the primary symptom of fibromyalgia.  The pain of fibromyalgia is profound and it migrates throughout the body without any boundaries.  For example, a fibromyalgia patient could have pain in their shoulder one day and then it migrates down to the hip and then it goes up to the back.  In fact, one of the diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia is the pain must cover all 4 quadrants of the body at some point in time.  One of the oddities of fibromyalgia is the pain is not perceived the same from patient to patient.  In fact, one patient may describe the pain as dull and achy, and another may describe it as sharp and stabbing.  It ranges from person to person.

The fatigue associated with fibromyalgia is also profound.  The fatigue of fibromyalgia is not just “I’m tired today”.  The fatigue is “I do dishes, and I have to go sit down because I’m wiped out” or “I do laundry, but after one load I can’t do anymore”.  It is not normal to be wiped out after doing the dishes or a single load of laundry!  Along with the fatigue, most fibromyalgia patients describe having sleep disturbances.  They either have a hard time going to sleep or staying asleep or a combination of the two.  Research has found that this is because fibromyalgia patients have awake-like brain activity while they are sleeping.  Their brains never turn off or go into that deep, restorative sleep.

Other symptoms that are frequently reported by Fibromyalgia patients include irritable bowel and/or bladder syndromes, headaches, restless leg syndrome, and depression and/or anxiety.

So let me encourage any of you who may have the symptoms I have been describing to consult a health care professional about your condition.  Many people are walking around with this condition without knowing it, and they are not able to get the help and the relief they need.

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