Recognizing the Signs of Fibromyalgia

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By Larisa Goldin, MBA, LMP

An interview with Margaret Mulroney, RN

 

Fibromyalgia Syndrome, or FMS, is a condition that involves significant pain in the muscles and joints of the body. People suffering from fibromyalgia often seek out massage therapy as a means of temporary relief from pain.  Dreamclinic sat down for an interview with client Margaret Mulroney, a registered nurse and advocate for greater understanding and information about FMS.

  

Fibromyalgia Points

DC: You hear the term fibromyalgia a lot lately.  For those not familiar, what is this condition?

 

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome rather than a disease, because the doctors don’t know the cause of it yet.  It is a disorder of the central nervous system where there is perceived pain without any obvious thing causing the pain: no visible signs or inflammation.  The pain involves the ligaments, tendons and muscles of the body.  The most common symptoms are fatigue and muscle pain all over the body.  Other conditions often go along with it, such as irritable bowel syndrome and numerous hormonal imbalances, adrenal gland or thyroid being the most common. Another common condition that goes along with fibromyalgia is an underlying sleep disorder. FMS is diagnosed by a rheumatologist who will check along 18 common tender points and will also rule out other conditions that mimic FMS, such as hepatitis or thyroid condition.

DC: One of the things you hear about Fibromyalgia is it often goes undiagnosed for years. Why is it so hard to diagnose?

 

The onset can be very slow.  It can take years for the symptoms to become so clear-cut that they can be properly diagnosed.  Sometimes fibromyalgia develops as a post-traumatic condition: if a person has a car accident and a lot of pain that never full goes away.  Then, because the symptoms can be vague, health professionals will attribute them to other causes: viruses, menopause in women or anxiety. Often, doctors downplay the condition: they can’t find an organic or physiological cause for the pain or fatigue and so they focus on the patient’s psychological outlook and they decide the causes of the illness are psychosomatic.  In my case, I had depression for many years, so the fibromyalgia symptoms were ignored.  I was treated as a person with depression rather than a person with a physical condition.

DC: In your case, what symptoms were you experiencing and how did you discover you had fibromyalgia?

 

I’ve had insomnia since high school and also 20 years of muscle pain.  My first job was in nursing, and after 10 years I had to quit because nursing is very physical and I had a lot of pain in my neck and shoulders.  Chiropractics helped partially, but I always felt something was wrong with my neck.  The pain was never fully gone.  Then, after 10 years of seeing a chiropractor, I developed low back pain.  I went to see a physical therapist and, instead of improving, I began to experience neuralgia (a pins and needles sensation in the hands and feet). An MRI ruled out multiple sclerosis so my next stop was to see a neurologist.  The neurologist said my symptoms were caused by anxiety.  Then I saw another chiropractor.  But, in all these years of seeing different health professionals, there was no answer to why I always had pain.

Four years ago, I started seeing a massage therapist for the low back pain and there were spots on my body so tender they could not be touched.  So the massage therapist told me about her mom who had been diagnosed with FMS and the symptoms were very similar to mine.  So I went to my primary doctor and said I think I have fibromyalgia and he sent me to a rheumatologist.  As it turns out, I had 17 out 18 tender points that are used to diagnose fibromyalgia.

DC: You have had a number of related conditions.  How are they linked to fibromyalgia?

 

All we know is that fibromyalgia is a disorder of the central nervous system but not the root cause.  Whatever is responsible for fibromyalgia could be causing other multiple disorders.  A lot of people with fibromyalgia have multiple autoimmune conditions. They have low thyroid, lupus or chronic fatigue syndrome.  Also, ninety percent of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women who are pre- or post-menopausal.  After many years of trying to deal with the pain and fatigue, isn’t it normal our bodies are going to show the signs of all this stress?

DC: Based on your personal journey with fibromyalgia, what would you recommend if someone suspects they have this condition?

 

Listen to what your body is telling you rather than what the doctor is telling you.  If I had paid better attention to what my body was telling me, I would have quit my nursing graveyard shift much earlier.  The fact that I didn’t really took a toll on my body. To be a better advocate for yourself start keeping a journal and get specific. When you talk to a doctor, try to keep your emotions out of the explanation so the doctor is less likely to write off your concerns as psychosomatic. Doctors don’t like self-diagnosis, but if you think you have Fibromyalgia, speak up and ask to see a rheumatologist.  Don’t let the system intimidate you.

There are some good resources I should also mention:

  1. A good website in Seattle is groups.msn.com/FibroFolksOfSeattle/ 
  2. There is also the Fibromyalgia Personal Support Center at http://fmpsc.org/ through which you can locate a number of support groups
  3. The Arthritis Foundation at http://www.arthritis.org/also has some good information about Fibromyalgia
  4. Pacific Rheumatological associates are doing some interesting research with FMS.  Their website is http://www.pacificrheumatology.com
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