In introduction to Fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a very common but often misunderstood condition that devastates the lives of those who have it; I will call sufferers fibromites. It is estimated to affect between 2-4.5% of the population, which means that in UK alone there are between 1.2 and 2.8 million people with the disease.
There are important persons in history who are believed to have had fibromyalgia – for example, Florence Nightingale took to her bed with pain and fatigue in her thirties and stayed there until she died in her nineties. The age on onset of the condition is mostly between the ages of 35-50, although it can affect people of all ages, and far more women are affected than men.
The cause is not known, but latest research shows those with fibromyalgia have disordered function of the autonomic nervous system. This is the most powerful system in the body, controlling vital functions such as respiration and cardiac function, so it is very difficult to treat. Some people find a treatment that helps them live a reasonable quality of life, but others find that nothing relieves their distressing symptoms. Another feature of the disease is that it is often difficult to diagnose because most medical tests are normal, so some people suffer for years without a diagnosis, often considered to be malingerers or hypochondriacs.
The effects of fibromyalgia are chronic widespread pain, fatigue, and broken sleep. It has been shown in studies that people with fibromyalgia do not enter deep sleep which means their bodies are not restored by sleep. Fibromites have allodynia, which means that they feel pain without stimulation, and hyperaesthesia, which means that their brains register pain sensations more acutely. But this is only the beginning of a list of symptoms that affect all parts of the body – from dizziness, tingling, memory impairment, spasms and cramps, and headache, to heat and cold intolerance, depression, soft tissue tenderness, and many other distressing effects. Fibromites often suffer other diseases concurrently, such as chronic fatigue, irritable bowel, irritable bladder, myofascial pain syndrome, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and systemic lupus erythematosis.
Most people with fibromyalgia look healthy even when they feel very ill, and hence sometimes family members and employers do not understand the nature of this invisible disability. Even some medical practitioners do not have a full understanding of the disease. As fibromites are often unable to cope with work, this means that they and their families often suffer financial hardship. It is often difficult for them to convince benefits agencies of their inability to work, adding to financial pressures and stress. This also means that complementary therapies such as therapeutic massage and vitamin supplements which might offer some relief are unaffordable to them.
The social isolation that often accompanies disability is often experienced by those with fibromyalgia. This is why it is important for local support groups to develop, to increase understanding in the general population as well as providing a means of linking sufferers with others in the same situation.