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What is fibromyalgia?

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterised by sensibility and chronic pain in various parts of the body, with no improvement for more than three months.

The areas of the body where pain is most prevalent are: cervical spine, dorsal, lumbar, knees, nape of the neck, elbows and buttocks. The patient may also experience numbness in the feet and hands, as well as insomnia (due to the pain), fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Fibromyalgia is more prevalent in females than males, with ages between 30 and 60 being the most probable to develop this health condition, although it can occur at other ages.

Although the medical literature on fibromyalgia is extensive, its exact cause is still unknown. The most commonly accepted hypothesis is related to psychological stress. Since organic causes are difficult to define, it is most likely that fibromyalgia is a somatisation syndrome.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

The symptoms of fibromyalgia are varied and manifest themselves in a similar way in all people diagnosed with the condition.

Apart from generalised pain throughout the body, the most commonly reported symptoms are extreme tiredness (especially on waking up), insomnia, difficulty concentrating, frequent migraines, abdominal pain, numbness and tingling in the extremities of the hands and feet, which may vary among people.

There is no specific test to identify fibromyalgia; generally laboratory and imaging tests are performed so that other diagnostic hypotheses can be excluded. After ruling out any other diagnosis, the doctor (e.g. rheumatologist, neurologist or orthopaedic surgeon), usually performs an examination called tender points, in which specific points are pressed on the body to evaluate the sensitivity at these points. Usually, in people who do not suffer from fibromyalgia, these points do not hurt if pressed. Those who suffer from this condition will experience a lot of pain.

What causes fibromyalgia?

First of all, it should be noted that fibromyalgia is a subjective pathology, both in terms of its symptoms and its causes. Medicine still does not know the mechanism that triggers the pain that characterises this condition, but it has been proven that the emotional factor plays an extremely important role.

Scientific literature is increasingly demonstrating the strong relationship between the physical and emotional worlds with regard to health and illness. Throughout life, people are confronted with various scenarios and situations, which are potentially traumatic and cause anguish. What often happens, and with the intention of not experiencing suffering, is that this information is stored - repressed - in the unconscious, so that that image/scenario/situation is not present in the person's memory. Since these repressed memories consist of pure energy, they are left to wait for the moment to return to the conscious. It is at this moment that the symptom - the pain - is experienced. In other words, when a trigger is activated (e.g., an image resembling the experienced scenario, or a flash of memory), the previously censored event returns, being exteriorised in the body in the form of illness.

For example, people who suffered affective deprivation in childhood have a strong predisposition to present various psychosomatic illnesses, among them fibromyalgia, which can be called a "disease of the soul."

Another cause for the chronic pain that characterises fibromyalgia is associated with perfectionism. People who are perfectionists, concerned with success, beauty, social position and financial status tend to experience chronic pain more easily. Daily stress can not only be the cause of depression and generalised anxiety, but can also be a cause of fibromyalgia. The person cannot stand the pressure they put on themselves and end up getting sick.

Jealous people, with difficulties in maintaining an emotional balance in their relationships, who usually have their attention very much directed at their partner, are also strong candidates for developing serious emotional problems. These people are the ones who stop living their lives to closely check what the other is doing or thinking. Now, all the stress that takes place in such a relationship can be converted into a physical illness.

Finally, people with great difficulty in coping with love losses and mourning also have a strong probability of becoming psychically ill, given their emotional fragility.

In other words, in general, the environment in which the person lives needs to be healthy in order to allow a good formation of their psychic apparatus. The cause of the symptoms present in fibromyalgia may be in the unconscious and the body uses the disease as a way of externalising its pain.

What are the most suitable treatments?

First of all, it is essential for the person suffering from fibromyalgia to bear in mind that therapeutic help from a psychologist or psychoanalyst is essential. Perhaps this help should have taken place at an earlier stage in life, as soon as the person presents psychological maladjustments. In this way, fibromyalgia, like any other illness of psychosomatic origin, can be avoided.

However, what usually happens is that the search for a mental health professional comes after help has been sought with various doctors. It is important to note that a mental health professional can help to restructure the person's psychological balance and thus mitigate their pain by understanding its causes. Physiotherapy follow-up is also important - with the inclusion of low-impact aerobic exercises to improve physical conditioning. All of this will help promote serotonin stimulation in the body. Finally, relaxation exercises and dietary re-education are also indicated. The doctor, usually a rheumatologist, should monitor the patient over time, in addition to prescribing medication to reduce their symptoms.

There is no need to despair! Every day, many people are diagnosed with this syndrome and manage to live a normal life. All it takes is a few adjustments to their routine.

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