Fibromyalgia can often be a difficult condition to diagnose. Many of its symptoms, such as fatigue and pain, overlap with those of other conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Additionally, each individual case of fibromyalgia can differ in both its severity and the location of pain. Unfortunately for some, it can take years of tests and doctor’s visits to reach an accurate diagnosis.
There is no specific test to diagnose fibromyalgia, however, once all other possible medical conditions have been tested for and ruled out, there are several different ways to reach an accurate diagnosis. In 1990 the American College of Rheumatology published diagnostic criteria for identifying Fibromyalgia. The criteria included the presence of chronic widespread pain and the presence of pain in at least 11 of 18 possible tender points on various parts of the body. These 18 sites are scattered across the neck, back, chest, elbows, hips, buttocks and knees.
A doctor can test the painful tender points during an examination by applying finger pressure to the area. During an examination the doctor will also test some control areas which are not tender points to check for pain and may use an instrument called a ‘dolorimeter’.
Tender points, which are much more sensitive than the surrounding areas, are small painful areas around the joint, but not in the joint itself. They are not large areas and are only the size of a 1p coin. Pressure on a tender point may cause sufficient pain to make a person flinch or pull back and although the pain can feel like inflammation, research has shown inflammation is not normally present. The cause of pain in the tender points is unknown, however the location of pain felt by those diagnosed with fibromyalgia is consistent, with many sufferers experiencing similar symptoms.
To reach a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia a doctor will look for tender points, but it is also important to discuss any other symptoms a patient may be feeling. Other symptoms might include muscle pain, sleep problems and fatigue along with other associated problems, like depression and irritable bowel syndrome.
A combination of traditional and complimentary therapies are often used to alleviate the pain of tender points. Medication, stress management, exercise, hydrotherapy and rest can all help. In some cases anti-depressants have been shown to help relieve both the fatigue associated with fibromyalgia and tender point pain.
Encouragingly there is much that can be done at home to help manage the symptoms of Fibromyalgia and tender points:
- Using moist heat, such as a warm shower or a moist heating pad can be very beneficial.
- Therapeutic massage can provide relief and help ease muscle pain and stress.
- Managing your schedule and not taking on too many tiring commitments can help reduce fatigue and stress.
- Taking time out each day to relax and unwind, perhaps doing relaxation therapies such as guided imagery.
- Sticking to a bedtime routine helps your body unwind, repair itself and get some much needed rest.
- Doing regular exercise is also very helpful for managing the pain of Fibromyalgia and depression.
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