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Living With Fibromyalgia:, Drugs Approved to Manage Pain

Debilitating Effects

Matallana, who is now president of NFA, says she was a partner in an advertising firm when her life turned completely upside down because of her symptoms. "I finally had to stop working in 1995 and spent most of the next two years in bed," she says. Her husband quit his job and became a consultant working from home so that he could care for her.

"I had a yoga instructor coming to my house three times a week to help me get out of bed. The pain and exhaustion were so bad that there were days that the only activity I was able to do was walk from my bed to the mailbox and back to bed. Each day seemed like an eternity and so I had to focus on just getting through one day at a time."

People with fibromyalgia can experience pain anywhere, but common sites of pain include the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs. In addition to pain and fatigue, other symptoms include difficulty sleeping, morning stiffness, headaches, painful menstrual periods, tingling or numbness of hands or feet, and difficulty thinking and remembering. Some people with the condition may also experience irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic pain, restless leg syndrome, and depression.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Scientists believe that the condition may be due to injury, emotional distress, or viruses that change the way the brain perceives pain, but the exact cause is unclear. People with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and spinal arthritis may be more likely to have the illness.

According to ACR, people with fibromyalgia can have abnormal levels of Substance P in their spinal fluid. This chemical helps transmit and amplify pain signals to and from the brain.

Researchers are looking at the role of Substance P and other neurotransmitters, and studying why people with fibromyalgia have increased sensitivity to pain and whether there is a gene or genes that make a person more likely to have it.

Getting a Diagnosis

Matallana says she felt her suffering was being dismissed as she went from doctor to doctor looking for answers.

"Many doctors suggested that it was just stress," she says. "Some of them even made references that it was all in my head. I was eventually misdiagnosed as having lupus."

When Matallana was 39, a rheumatologist who was just starting his practice, finally diagnosed her with fibromyalgia. "With my doctor's help, I started to feel better," she says. "It made all the difference that I had a health care provider who could give me insights as to what fibromyalgia research was showing, and that there were other people feeling what I was feeling."

Family physicians, general internists, and rheumatologists are the doctors who typically treat fibromyalgia. There is no diagnostic test for it. Doctors make a diagnosis by conducting physical examinations, evaluating symptoms, and ruling out other conditions. For example, fibromyalgia can be distinguished from arthritis because arthritis causes inflammation of tissues and joints and fibromyalgia does not. Another condition with similar symptoms, hypothyroidism, can be confirmed with a blood test.

Diagnostic criteria set forth by ACR include a history of widespread pain for at least three months and pain in at least 11 of 18 tender point sites.

WebMD Public Information from the FDA