Understanding and Treating Fibromyalgia

by Sara Alvarado

Updated July 1, 2024
Fibromyalgia inflicts chronic pain on several million Americans each year. And its symptoms can be very debilitating, from pains in every part of the body to fatigue. Although pretty common, we do not yet know the exact cause of this condition.

Yet, while its cause remains somewhat elusive, there have been several theories, and each year, we inch closer to new hope in the form of a cure for it. We will cover core concepts, the latest updates on fibromyalgia, recent research studies, and upcoming therapies.

1. What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that affects the entire body with pain. It leads, often and irrevocably, to aches and fatigue, sleeping issues, etc. If you have this disorder, your body apparently processes pain in an abnormally high or unusual way. You will experience more pain than someone without fibromyalgia.

Despite only predominantly targeting muscle and soft tissue, new studies are suggesting that fibromyalgia could be an autoimmune issue instead of a purely neurological one. This is in line with evidence that antibodies in fibromyalgia patients can stimulate the pain-sensing nerves more, which is a hint that the immune system might be involved in symptoms.

Fibromyalgia pain is frequently called chronic, and aching, and also tends to last for at least three months on both sides of the body on and below the waist. This condition is also characterized by an increased pain response of the area to pressure (allodynia) and can cause various cognitive dysfunction symptoms extending to what is sometimes referred to as "fibro fog," involving short-term memory problems and concentration issues.

Moreover, what classically initiates fibromyalgia are "happenings" in an individual's life: infection, stress, trauma, allergies, etc., stating also a cross-talk between the stress answers and the brain and immune system.

2. What are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?

Here are the symptoms explained:

Chronic Widespread Pain

Fibromyalgia shows as widespread body pain. Most patients would simply call it a chronic, dull, achy back pain. The main sites of the pain are both sides of the body above and below the waist.
Understanding and Treating Fibromyalgia

Image Source: Grant a smile

The effects of this experience persist for a very long time and usually continue for two or more months before they subside.

Fatigue

People diagnosed with fibromyalgia often express tiredness as a symptom. This exhaustion persists despite rest or sleep. Can interfere with their tasks.

Sleep Disorders

There are also reported sleep disorders of patients due to fibromyalgia in fibromyalgia patients: insomnia, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and sleep apnea. Those disturbances contribute to the overall fatigue and exacerbation of symptoms.

Sensitivity to Touch and Temperature

Patients with fibromyalgia often suffer an increased sensation to both touch and temperature. They might even experience pain with gentle pressure, and they can easily get affected by cold and heat.

Other symptoms

Other common symptoms include headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and anxiety. This might render the management of fibromyalgia a very overwhelming condition because these overlap with each other.

3. What are the Risk Factors of Fibromyalgia?

There are many risk factors that make an individual prone to developing the disorder. They are:

Genetics

Genetic susceptibility is crucial in fibromyalgia predisposition. This has been evidenced by studies demonstrating that fibromyalgia not only clusters but also runs across families, implying some heritability.

Gender

Understanding and Treating Fibromyalgia

Image source: By Jim E Banta, ResearchGate

Gender is a significant risk factor; for example, women are up to seven times more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men. Women are 75–90% of all cases of fibromyalgia. Hormonal differences, including the effects of estrogen, may play a role in this disparity.

Age

Although fibromyalgia can affect any age, usually in the mid-adult phase and mostly diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50 years. The risk increases with age, especially in women going towards menopause.

Stress and Trauma

There are additional factors that can also increase the risk, such as chronic stress and previous traumatic experiences, either physical or emotional. Events experienced, operations or physical or emotional stresses, and psychological traumas can also trigger the onset of fibromyalgia.

Disturbances in HA homeostasis for chronic stress and the relevant psycho emotional factors refer not only to the levels but also to the balance between the neurohumoral mechanisms of HAH regulation, with the result of fibromyalgia representing one of the more significant manifestations.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea, are both symptoms and, at the same time, risk factors for fibromyalgia. Poor quality of sleep enhances pain and fatigue, increasing the development and prolongation of symptoms in fibromyalgia.

4. Impact on Mental Health

The association of fibromyalgia with mental ailments is very well known. Up to 90% of fibromyalgia patients qualify for the lifetime category of depression at some moment in their lives.

From this number, only about 25% reported long-term improvements after treatments. Anxiety is also considerably widespread, and many such patients report elevated psychological turmoil due to incessant complaints of pain and exhaustion.

5. Recent Scientific Developments

Scientists from King's College London, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Liverpool and the Karolinska Institute, have shown that, within the patient spectrum of people living with fibromyalgia, increased antibody activity results in the heightened activity of pain-sensing nerves.

This underpins symptoms such as heightened sensitivity to pain, muscle weakness, and poor movement. They suggest this may provide a route for therapies targeting the antibodies to treat fibromyalgia.

6. New Treatment Options

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)

One non-pharmacological management that appears to be promising is Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS). In addition, recent research proved that this therapy had a good effect on cognitive and psychiatric functions in another group of patients with fibromyalgia.

Lifestyle and Dietary Interventions

Lifestyle adaptations regarding diet and physical activity are still foundational in the management of fibromyalgia. Clinical trials have supported that a Mediterranean diet compares better with a standard diet for pain, anxiety, and fatigue and also significantly improves the quality of life among fibromyalgia patients.

It prescribes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and sources of healthy fat fighting inflammation. Of significant importance, the diet reduces general body inflammation.

Digital Health Innovations

Digital health tools also play a part in the control of fibromyalgia. A new app created to m symptoms associated with long-COVID-related fibromyalgia is demonstrated to improve usability and empower patients, boosting outcomes using digital interventions.

7. Conclusion

There are new advances in terms of understanding and approaches to fibromyalgia disease treatment. The identity of fibromyalgia as an autoimmune disorder opens the door for new treatment possibilities, and emerging therapies, including rTMS, propose an exciting alternative to the current medication regimens.

Lifestyle changes and digital health tools work together as added support in managing this complex condition. Research into the condition continues, with the promise of more effective treatments to come that will increase the quality of life for people living with fibromyalgia.

8. References

1.Autoantibodies: a possible contributor to fibromyalgia. (2021, July 1). Karolinska Institutet.
https://news.ki.se/autoantibodies-a-possible-contributor-to-fibromyalgia

2.Dellwo, A. (2024, April 28). Is fibromyalgia an autoimmune disease? Verywell Health.
https://www.verywellhealth.com/autoimmunity-neuroinflammation-in-fibromyalgia-5197944#:~:text=Summary,provide%20diagnostic%20markers%20for%20FM.

3.Fibromyalgia likely the result of autoimmune problems. (2021, July 21). ScienceDaily.
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210701120703.htm#:~:text=New%20research%20has%20shown%20that,it%20originates%20in%20the%20brain.

4.He, Y., & Kim, P. Y. (2023, September 4). Allodynia. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537129/

5.King’s College London. (2021, August 17). New study shows Fibromyalgia likely the result of autoimmune problems. King’s College London.
https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/new-study-shows-fibromyalgia-likely-the-result-of-autoimmune-problems

6.Mann, S. K., & Malhi, N. K. (2023, March 6). Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK568715/#:~:text=Repetitive%20transcranial%20magnetic%20stimulation%20(rTMS)%20refers%20to%20applying%20recurring%20TMS,several%20psychiatric%20and%20neurological%20disorders.

7.News-Medical. (2019, February 7). Fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety.
https://www.news-medical.net/health/Fibromyalgia-Depression-and-Anxiety.aspx#:~:text=Fibromyalgia%20and%20depression,%E2%80%9386%25%20in%20fibromyalgia%20patients.

8.Pedersen, T. (2023, May 23). At what age does fibromyalgia typically develop? Healthline.
https://www.healthline.com/health/fibromyalgia/fibromyalgia-age-range

Article by
Sara Alvarado
Greetings, I'm Sara, a dedicated nurse and a proud contributor to the AutoInfu blog. With my firsthand experience in the world of infusion pumps, I'm here to provide you with the latest insights, expert advice, and essential updates to ensure you stay informed about the infusion pump industry.

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