Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood on June 15, 2012
National Fibromyalgia Association Thomas Hurd, MD, FIPP, Anesthesiologist, Critical Care Specialist, Georgia Pain Clinic, Marietta, GA.W. Hayes Wilson, MD, Chief of Rheumatology, Piedmont Hospital, Atlanta, GA
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Bill Miller: I came down with what I thought was the flu and I just never got over it
Susan Miller: I would say for me that the fatigue is the worst part.
Narrator: They're talking about Fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by a range of symptoms like muscle tenderness and pain. The disease is 6 times more common in women, yet men can also be afflicted, as was evident at this support group meeting.
Kevin McLeod: I literally was beyond fatigue.
Narrator: Several in this group say stress played a major role in bringing the disease on.
Thomas Hurd, MD, FIPP: Fibromyalgia is really a triad of too much pain, or all-over pain, a sleep disorder, and fatigue during the day.
Narrator: Still diagnosis and treatment can be tricky.
W. Hayes Wilson, MD: The symptoms of fibromyalgia can go with a lot of different diseases. So we have to make sure that we're not dealing with a different disease than fibromyalgia. We want as precise a diagnosis as we can have.
Narrator: Once other known diseases are excluded, doctors can check for 18 specific tender points as defined by the American College of Rheumatology. If at least 11 of those 18 prove painful on touch, a patient can be classified as having Fibromyalgia.
Claudia Wendlendt: It can be real scary at that point for someone who's been extremely healthy.
Narrator: And the repercussions can be emotional as well as physical.
Victoria Francola: My family fell apart. Sorry... I actually lost my husband...
W. Hayes Wilson, MD: Most of the patients aren't clinically depressed, but almost all of them feel bad about feeling bad all the time. If you look at the chemistry of their brain, they tend to be low in a substance called serotonin.
Narrator: In fact, many fibromyalgia patients take antidepressants that supplement serotonin, a hormone linked to stabilizing mood. Sometimes a more conservative psychological approach like Cognitive Behavior Therapy can also be useful.
: Arms over your head...
Narrator: Physical therapy is frequently prescribed as a means of keeping debilitating pain and stiffness in check. These movements and stretches can also aid circulation and many patients claim an improvement in cognitive function as well.
: Oh that hurts.
Narrator: Though it's often at odds with a patient's pain, experts encourage as much movement as can be tolerated.
W. Hayes Wilson, MD: So sometimes what we have to do is we have to try and give them some medical adjuncts to help them get started.
Narrator: Still many non-medicinal approaches may be effective, such as acupuncture, any type of gentle exercise, such as water therapy, and a technique called biofeedback, where patients normally under the guidance of a trained specialist, learn to become more aware of their body's own signals so that they might employ counter-measures to help them deal with their pain.
W. Hayes Wilson, MD: If we take care of pain very frequently a lot of other things get better.
Narrator: For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.