I had my latest appointment with my rheumatologist yesterday, and it was a good one. She reaffirmed that my rheumatological disorder is indeed fibromyalgia, and she wants to see me again in September to follow up. When I saw her last, she prescribed Tramadol for my pain and ordered more blood tests (of which I’ve had dozens over the past few years) just to make sure they were still “normal,” then called me a couple weeks later with a tentative-but-fairly-certain fibro diagnosis.
Since I’m still learning what fibro is myself, I figure it’s a good time to share what she and I discussed yesterday as well as share some links to great fibro information.
Fibromyalgia is NOT caused by or related to depression. Fibro is NOT a psychological or psychosomatic condition. Sufferers are NOT hypochondriacs or “whiners.” Unlike many other rheumatological conditions, there are no visible signs of the disease. Because of this, many people have a hard time relating to or sympathizing with sufferers, since by all accounts they look healthy, even if they feel as though they’ve been hit by a bus.
The gist of the disease is that it’s an irregularity in the way the body processes pain. Researchers aren’t sure yet what causes fibro, or how and why it affects people, or what determines the degree to which someone might experience symptoms. There may be a genetic component, but it’s unclear. Certain people might be predisposed to the condition, but the onset tends to be triggered by a physical illness or trauma.
There is no cure, and only recently have there been drugs approved by the FDA to treat fibro. Many treatments are simply a management of the symptoms, such as pain medication and anti-depressants (to elevate serotonin levels in the brain). Many sufferers experience an improvement in their symptoms by adopting a mild to moderate exercise regimen.
There are very specific ways to diagnose the disease, although doctors will try to rule out more serious conditions first, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
As for my own diagnosis, it’s been several years in the making. My fibro seems to have been triggered by a nasty cold I had a few years ago, although I can reach back even farther than that to find fibro-like symptoms — achey joints, odd sleep patterns, overwhelming fatigue, random pains just about everywhere, increased skin/muscle sensitivity in areas (mild pokes, bumps, or pinches feel like they’re going to leave huge bruises), among other things. My doctor reassures me that I’m toward the mild end of the scale when it comes to severity of symptoms, but I definitely have good days and bad. Sometimes I’m popping pain pills every six hours for days, and then I’ll go two or three weeks feeling just fine without them.
If you’d like to learn more about fibromyalgia, I recommend visiting the National Fibromyalgia Association’s website and WebMD’s Fibromyalgia Health Center. Both are excellent sources of information about the disease.