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Nearly 13 million people, mostly women, suffer from a mysterious condition known as fibromyalgia. This painful and little understood disease has no known cause and no test can be used to detect it. Yet, its affects are devastating to its victims.

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome, a collection of symptoms that, when taken together, are given a diagnosis and a basic set of treatments. The symptoms of fibromyalgia are many and are often misdiagnosed for as many as three years before finally being recognized.

The symptoms usually start presenting themselves subtly; most often the first is diffuse and chronic pain. The sufferer cannot usually associate the pain with any particular cause or injury. The pain seems widespread, usually affecting most of the body with particular emphasis in the joints.

Chronic insomnia will often set in. The patient has a difficult time falling asleep; staying asleep and sometimes will be wakened with pain or restless legs. Depression sets in for many. At this stage, most will start to seek help from the medical community and are most often treated for depression rather than chronic pain. The classic dilemma of which came first, the chicken or the egg, is part of what the fibromyalgia patient deals with. Are they depressed because they’re in pain or in pain because they’re depressed? Frustration becomes a major problem for the sufferer.

The diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia include chronic pain of three or more month’s duration, pain in all four quadrants of the body and reactive trigger points. Specific points of pain can be found in the patient with fibromyalgia. There are 18 recognized throughout the body and for diagnosis, at least 11 must be reactive. At least three of the four quadrants of the body must be affected.

Once, through process of elimination, a diagnosis is arrived at, treatment can begin. Rhuematologists most often treat this condition, though it’s not truly an arthritic condition. Its symptoms are so like those of arthritis, though, that these specialists are most adept at treating the problems.

Treatment for fibromyalgia will usually include pain-relieving drugs called NSAIDs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs not only help to relieve pain but will also reduce the swelling so common with this condition. Sometimes, the patient will be started on a course of anti-depressant medications to relieve the symptoms of that condition. At times, some patients will use narcotic pain relievers to ease particularly bad cycles of pain.

Maintaining healthy weight and flexibility as well as reducing stress can significantly improve the life of the patient. Gentle aerobic exercise can reduce pain and help with overall fitness. Self-education about the condition is also beneficial.

Even though little is know yet about fibromyalgia and few treatments are available, those with the syndrome can lead happy and productive lives. Understanding the condition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are key.