Fibromyalgia affects 2-3 per cent of adults. Women are affected more often than men. It presents with chronic pain and can affect any part of the body. One ends up with chronic pain at multiples sites for no obvious reason. Apart from pain, it can also cause multiple other symptoms like disturbed sleep and disabling fatigue. These symptoms may sound trivial but can become disabling. It can play havoc with one’s personal and professional life. It is an “invisible ailment”, with no obvious visible manifestations despite the disabling symptoms. Close relatives and friends often tend to think that the person is lazy, it is “all in the head” and that he/she does not wish to work. This makes the process of seeking medical advice difficult.
Unfortunately, awareness—even among doctors—about diagnosing this disease and understanding it is low. There are no diagnostic tests and it is a diagnosis of exclusion. The patient often gets labelled ‘psychosomatic’ or ‘hypochondriac’ by doctors. This makes things even worse for the patient. The persistent symptoms, lack of understanding of the ailment by friends and family can create feelings of dejection and depression.
A new test called ‘FM test’ has been developed by Dr Bruce Gillis and his colleagues. It looks at the production level of specific cytokines (chemicals produced by the immune system). It costs $750. However, it is in the experimental phase and is not widely accepted by the medical fraternity.
The good news is that effective medication, along with exercise and meditation, can help normalise the life of a patient. Every patient has her own unique emotional, social and professional profile. The profile, social support and coping ability has to be considered and addressed while planning the treatment. As the patient gets treated, it is very important for relatives to understand the disease, help the patient cope—and in fact conquer—fibromyalgia.
Consultant rheumatologist, Mumbai Arthritis Clinic & Research Centre; E-mail your columnist: mumbaiarthritisclinic [AT] gmail [DOT] com