What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a common condition that was first reported in 1850. However, despite being well described almost 150 years ago it is just beginning to be accepted as a discrete syndrome. This syndrome consists of chronic diffuse musculoskeletal pain with associated widespread discrete tender points. Eighty to ninety percent of the patients are women between the ages of 20 and 60 years. About 75% of the patients have associated fatigue, abnormal sleep, and widespread stiffness. Twenty five percent of the patients show other common features including irritable bowel syndrome, swelling, change in skin sensation, anxiety, depression, and functional disability. It is important to exclude certain diseases before diagnosing fibromyalgia. These include: rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, polymyalgia rheu-matica, hypothyroidism,and neuropathy. However, it is not uncommon for fibromyalgia to coexist with most of these conditions. In many patients, multiple other seemingly unrelated somatic symptoms are common. These may include difficulty concentrating, dizziness, dry eyes and mouth, palpitations and sensitivity to food, medications and allergens.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

The cause is still unknown. Many viruses and some immunological abnormalities have been suggested. Environmental toxins, food allergies, and food preservatives have also been implicated. Minor or substantial muscle trauma, emotional trauma, changes in medications, especially withdrawal of steroids, a flu-like viral illness, lyme disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome are frequently identified by patients as to precede the onset of symptoms. Fibromyalgia may also concomitantly exist with many rheumatic pain disorders, whether systemic or regional. Though no firm evidence points to any of the above possible causes, none of them can be ruled out. Recent studies have identified muscles with diminished exercise blood flow, and abnormal brain waves that may be responsible for disturbed sleep and fatigue. Currently, studies are focusing attention on “serotonin” levels, substance P, and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.

How to Diagnose FMS?

No laboratory tests are currently available to diagnose FMS. Clinically, “Tender Point Count” (sensitivity in at least 11 of 18 designated points) has become the primary diagnostic tool in fibromyalgia, after excluding other possible causes for the symptoms. These points are located in the following areas: Occiput, where the neck muscles are attached, Trapezius muscles at a the midpoint of their upper border, Where Muscles are attached to upper inner border of scapula, Anterior aspect of cervical vertebrae 5-7, Second rib: at its junction with sternum, near the muscle attachments to the Lateral epicondyle at elbows, Gluteal muscles: at their upper outer quadrant, Greater trochanter: (slightly behind it), Knee: at a fat pad above the joint line on the inside surface.

How Can Alternative & Complementary Medicine Help?

While traditional western medicine can only offer relief of symptoms in the form of pain medication, muscle relaxants, and anti-depressants, alternative and complementary medicine can offer a variety of natural approaches to stimulate the body’s ability to fight the disease. For example acupuncture can strengthen the weakened energy meridians, increase serotonin in the brain, and stimulate the hypothalamic-adrenal axis. Homeopathic remedies are believed to stimulate innate natural defense systems. Both homeopathy and acupuncture can be used effectively to get rid of accumulated toxins in your systems and improve the overall psychological and emotional aspects in addition to the physical aspects of fibromyalgia. In summary, acupuncture and homeopathy deal with and aim to correct many bodily disturbances that are usually present in connection with fibromyalgia rather than dealing only with the symptoms. Other forms of complementary and alternative therapies ranging from diet correction to special medical massages, to myotherapy, among others, also play vital roles in improving the overall picture of fibromyalgia.