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Sunday, January 22, 2006

FIBROMYALGIA

WHAT IS FIBROMYALGIA SYNDROME?
FMS (fibromyalgia syndrome) is a widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder for which the cause is still unknown. Fibromyalgia means pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons – the soft fibrous tissues in the body.
Most patients with FMS say that they ache all over. Their muscles may feel like they have been pulled or overworked. Sometimes the muscles twitch and at other times they burn. More women than men are afflicted with FMS, and it shows up in people of all ages.
To help your family and friends relate to your condition, have them think back to the last time they had a bad flu. Every muscle in their body shouted out in pain. In addition, they felt devoid of energy as though someone had unplugged their power supply. While the severity of symptoms fluctuate from person to person, FMS may resemble a post-viral state. This similarity is the reason experts in the field of FMS and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) believe that these two syndromes may be one and the same. Gulf War syndrome also overlaps with FMS/CFS.

SYMPTOMS AND ASSOCIATED SYNDROMES
Pain - The pain of FMS has no boundaries. People describe the pain as deep muscular aching, throbbing, shooting, and stabbing. Intense burning may also be present. Quite often, the pain and stiffness are worse in the morning and you may hurt more in muscle groups that are used repetitively.Fatigue - This symptom can be mild in some patients and yet incapacitating in others. The fatigue has been described as "brain fatigue" in which patients feel totally drained of energy. Many patients depict this situation by saying that they feel as though their arms and legs are tied to concrete blocks, and they have difficulty concentrating, e.g., brain fog.Sleep disorder - Most FMS patients have an associated sleep disorder called the alpha-EEG anomaly. This condition was uncovered in a sleep lab with the aid of a machine which recorded the brain waves of patients during sleep. Researchers found that most FMS patients could fall asleep without much trouble, but their deep level (or stage 4) sleep was constantly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity. Patients appeared to spend the night with one foot in sleep and the other one out of it. Sleep lab tests may not be necessary to determine if you have disturbed sleep. If you wake up feeling as though you've just been run over by a Mack truck – what doctors refer to as unrefreshing sleep – it is reasonable for your physician to assume that you have a sleep disorder. Many FMS patients have been found to have other sleep disorders in addition to the alpha-EEG, such as sleep apnea, sleep myoclonus (nighttime jerking of the arms and legs), and restless legs syndrome. A newly discovered sleep disorder, upper-airway resistance syndrome, is also being evaluated for its association with FMS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome - Constipation, diarrhea, frequent abdominal pain, abdominal gas, and nausea represent symptoms frequently found in roughly 40 to 70% of FMS patients.
Chronic headaches - Recurrent migraine or tension-type headaches are seen in about 70% of FMS patients and can pose a major problem in coping for this patient group.Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Syndrome - This syndrome, sometimes referred to as TMJ or TMD, causes tremendous jaw-related face and head pain in one quarter of FMS patients. However, a 1997 published report indicated that close to 75% of FMS patients have a varying degree of jaw discomfort. Typically, the problems are related to the muscles and ligaments surrounding the jaw joint and not necessarily the joint itself.Other common symptoms - Premenstrual syndrome and painful periods, chest pain, morning stiffness, cognitive or memory impairment, numbness and tingling sensations, muscle twitching, irritable bladder, the feeling of swollen extremities, skin sensitivities, dry eyes and mouth, dizziness, and impaired coordination can occur. Patients are often sensitive to odors, loud noises, bright lights, and sometimes even the medications that they are prescribed.Aggravating factors - Changes in weather, cold or drafty environments, infections, allergies, hormonal fluctuations (premenstrual and menopausal states), stress, depression, anxiety and over-exertion may all contribute to symptom flare-ups.

POSSIBLE CAUSES
The cause of FMS remains elusive, but there are many triggering events thought to precipitate its onset. A few examples would be an infection (viral or bacterial), an automobile accident or the development of another disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or hypothyroidism. These triggering events probably don't cause FMS, but rather, they may awaken an underlying physiological abnormality that is already present.What could this abnormality be? Theories pertaining to alterations in pain-related chemical transmitters (particularly substance P, nerve growth factor, serotonin, and norepinephrine), immune system function (e.g. abnormally elevated levels of cytokines that form the communications link between your immunologic and neurologic systems), sleep physiology, and hormonal irregularities are under investigation. In addition, modern brain imaging techniques are being used to explore various aspects of brain function. The body's response to exercise, stress, and alterations in the operation of your autonomic nervous system (the one that operates in your peripheral tissues) are also being evaluated. Substance P and nerve growth factor are increased threefold and fourfold (respectively) in the spinal fluid of people with FMS, but researchers are working to figure out why these elevations exist. With regards to genetics, its role in FMS is also the focus of many investigations.

COMMON TREATMENTS
Traditional treatments are geared toward improving the quality of sleep and reducing pain. Deep level (stage 4) sleep is crucial for many body functions (such as tissue repair, antibody production, and the regulation of various neurotransmitters, hormones and immune system chemicals). Therefore, the sleep disorders that frequently occur in FMS patients are treated first because they may be a strong contributing factor to the symptoms of this condition. Medications that boost your body's level of serotonin and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters that modulate sleep, pain, and immune system function) are commonly prescribed in low doses, such as amitriptyline, cyclobenzaprine and Celexa. Ambien, clonazepam, and trazodone are just a few of the medications that may be used to aid sleep. Ultram may help with the pain, although stronger opioids may be needed for treating moderate to severe pain. Muscle relaxants and other drug categories may be prescribed as well. Each issue of Fibromyalgia Network contains information about new drug therapy options, as well as advice about how to make use of existing medications to minimize FMS symptoms.
In addition to medications, most patients will need to use other treatment methods as well, such as trigger point injections with lidocaine, physical therapy, occupational therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, relaxation/biofeedback techniques, osteopathic manipulation, chiropractic care, therapeutic massage, or a gentle exercise program.

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