How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed and Treated?
You’ve noticed some symptoms troubling you for the past few weeks and when you’ve been searching for a cause, you’ve run across the possibility of fibromyalgia. That probably led you to more questions than you had to start with, such as:
While it is a chronic condition, fibromyalgia isn’t fatal. There isn’t a cure yet, but there are medications and things you can do at home to manage your symptoms. But first you’ll need to look at what you can expect during the diagnosis process.
There is no smoking gun that will lead your doctor to a definitive fibromyalgia diagnosis right away. Instead, it will be a diagnosis of exclusion because there aren’t any tests that check for this condition.
Your doctor may tell you that you have this condition only after they have ruled out other ones. That’s because the signs of fibromyalgia, like pain and fatigue, can also be signs of other diseases, such as Lyme disease, osteoarthritis, cancer, thyroid issues, HIV, and others.
To rule out some of the other possible causes, your doctor will likely perform tests such as blood tests, x-rays, tissue samples if cancer is a possibility, CT scans, or MRIs.
They’ll likely examine you for fibromyalgia diagnostic criteria if they can find no other causes for your ailments.
- The doctor will determine your widespread pain index, a checklist that will help them determine how widespread your pain is that you’ve noticed over the last week. Your wpi score will be one more tool in the diagnostic process.
- They may press on body points that are often tender in a person with this condition and see how many of those tender points bother you.
If it turns out you do have fibromyalgia, you may feel shocked or even upset. But try to approach your new challenge with a positive attitude -- remember, there were potentially fatal diseases that could have been causing your symptoms. With proper management, you may be able to live just as you were before diagnosis, except potentially you’ll feel better than you have lately.
Medicines to Treat Fibromyalgia
Doctors have several drugs in their arsenal for the fight against fibromyalgia. But be aware, drugs do come with their own sets of side effects. The best treatment for fibromyalgia is a combination of medications taken regularly or as needed, lifestyle changes, and home remedies.
Let’s look at some of the medications doctors might prescribe if you have this condition. Remember, these are the drugs that are available -- that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily receive a prescription for each one.
- Cymbalta: This drug first went on the market as a treatment for anxiety and depression. Since then, it has been recognized as being effective for fibromyalgia as well.
- Lyrica: It targets nerve cell activity -- the ones that are responsible for pain signals.
- Savella: This has the distinction of being the first drug created solely for fibromyalgia treatment. It works by adjusting the brain’s amounts of norepinephrine and serotonin.
- Zanaflex: This is a muscle relaxer which may help for bad flare-ups.
- Acetaminophen and ibuprofen: These common medications, which have a long history of safe use and are inexpensive, can help with the body aches you have with this condition.
- Sleep medications: These include Flexeril, Neurontin, and Elavil, which can help with sleep and possibly even nerve pain. But other sleep medications, including Valium and Ambien, should be avoided for this condition because of the possibility of addiction. Before taking sleeping medication, speak to your doctor first for the appropriate brands to try.
- Drugs for depression: These might include the name brands of Paxil, Effexor, Zoloft, and Prozac, or generic versions.
- Ultram: This is a pain treatment medication.
- Cannabis: If your other options aren’t working, some people have used medical marijuana as a form of pain relief for fibromyalgia.
Before trying any of these medications, other than acetaminophen and ibuprofen, you should talk to your doctor first. What you need is a well-devised plan, and your doctor should be able to provide you with one.
Treating Fibromyalgia Without Drugs
Some people hate the idea of using medications and don’t want the added expense, side effects, or possible addiction they may face with drugs. That’s an understandable viewpoint, because there are risks and downsides when using medications, even though they may be helpful.
You might want to try alternative methods such as massage and acupuncture to potentially help with pain control. Seeking physical therapy to keep mobility and reduce stiffness could also be one option.
The best thing to do is to keep an open mind about your treatment plan. You can tell your doctor that you’d like to see how much lifestyle and home treatment options help before you decide whether to add medications. They should be able to help you devise a fibromyalgia natural treatment plan.
This kind of plan will include things like lifestyle changes and things you can do at home to help manage your symptoms.
Lifestyle Correction and Home Remedies
Some of the things you can do at home to help your condition include:
- Getting more rest: Sleep can help combat some of the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia like fatigue, anxiety, and depression. To improve sleep, you can incorporate exercise, block out excess light with blinds or curtains, and use a fan or sound machine for soothing white noise. You can also get a weighted blanket to get better sleep, which some people with fibromyalgia find soothing. They use weighted blankets as a helpful tool so they can go to sleep faster, and possibly sleep for longer before waking up.
- Exercise: Staying active is a great way to feel better when you have this condition. It can loosen the stiffness you feel, help reduce pain, and possibly prevent you from having issues with weight gain. When you’re starting to exercise, especially if you’ve been inactive before this, try not to do too much. Jump in slowly, starting with walking, even if it is just for a few minutes. As you build up endurance, add in more low-impact activities, like swimming, biking, and yoga.
- Avoiding caffeine: This can trigger some of your symptoms, like fatigue once the caffeine wears off. Plus, headaches are common with this condition and caffeine might contribute to that. Giving up the caffeine should improve your sleep as well.
- Eating right: Your diet is important, just as it would be if you didn’t have this condition. Avoid eating junk to temporarily make yourself feel better.
It’s a Challenge, But One You Can Handle
The best bet for successfully managing your fibromyalgia is keeping an open mind and being willing to try new things. You’ll have to tweak your plan occasionally. If you try medications, you might find some work, and some don’t. Or they might work, but you don’t want the side effects that come along with them.
You’ll have to be willing to keep what helps and get rid of what doesn’t. And for your best shot at managing your condition, you’ll have to try to make the lifestyle changes that will help you feel better.