Women No Longer Alone in Fight against Fibromyalgia  

Chronic pain syndrome gains wider awareness, effective therapies

DAYTON, Ohio (April 21, 2015) – Widespread chronic pain throughout the body can be difficult for anyone to handle, but for millions of American women it’s a burden that only feels heavier when its existence seems impossible to prove.

Drehmer HSAbout 10 million Americans, or two to four percent of the population, face this reality when they are diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a common and complex chronic pain disorder that causes widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body, according to the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association. The syndrome can affect anyone, but at least 90 percent of those with it are women, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases(NIAMSD) said.

Unlike other chronic pain disorders such as arthritis, fibromyalgia cannot be diagnosed through labs or seen with an X-ray and is often discovered after all other avenues for the pain are explored. For this reason, the syndrome can be a difficult diagnosis for many women who already struggle with the notion that what they are feeling may not be real after all. 

Timothy Drehmer, MD, a rheumatologist at Troy Primary Care Physicians, said fibromyalgia is not a new health condition.  However, the way in which it is diagnosed and treated has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, giving hope to women who suffer from it.

“When I first started practicing medicine 30 years ago there were medical professionals who didn’t believe it was real,” Dr. Drehmer, a Premier HealthNet physician, said. “The tide is changing, but it has been slow in coming. I still run into women who may not want to be labeled with this diagnosis because they are afraid their family and friends will not believe that their symptoms are real.”

Continued research has helped validate fibromyalgia and create clinical exams that aid in its diagnosis. Doctors who do a thorough examination and patient history will find common symptoms that may include widespread pain, specific areas of tenderness, fatigue, sleep disturbances, depression and temperature sensitivity. However, the most telling finding is one where the physician applies mild pressure on 18 key pressure points around the patient’s body. These pressure points – such as the one on the inside of the knee, just below the joint line –can cause tremendous tenderness and pain to someone who suffers from fibromyalgia, Dr. Drehmer said.

“I have patients who come to me who maybe have never heard of fibromyalgia or if they did they know nothing about it,” Dr. Drehmer said. “When you get down to it and examine these pressure points they become very precise locations of the pain. It’s not as though they could have made that up.”

Werner HeadshotIt is unknown what causes fibromyalgia or why it affects more women than men. Many patients associate the onset of fibromyalgia with a physically or emotionally stressful or traumatic event, such as an illness or automobile accident. For others, the syndrome seems to occur spontaneously, said Pamela Werner, MD, a Premier HealthNet physician at Miami Valley Primary Care. Researchers are looking into other causes including problems with how the body’s central nervous system processes pain, the NIAMSD said.

Research has led the way to new forms of medications and treatment. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, which means women will experience it for a long period, if not for the rest of their lives. However, new medications have helped alleviate its symptoms such as muscle pain, depression and sleep disturbances, Dr. Werner said.

“Many patients I see have responded really well to some of these medications as well as physical therapy, acupuncture and cortisone injections to the pressure points,” Dr. Werner said. “It can be a hard diagnosis for some because they feel so bad that they want to see proof on a test. Now that we know more about it, we can present it to them with hope that we can treat it.”

The NIAMSD outlines several lifestyle changes individuals can make to help alleviate symptoms of fibromyalgia:

Quality Sleep – Lack of sleep or sleep disturbances can cause fibromyalgia to flare up or worsen. Patients should discuss sleep issues with a doctor to help them get the sleep needed to ease the pain and fatigue caused by the disease.

Exercise – Research has shown that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia sufferers. Exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous to be effective. A good starting point can include stretching exercises and walking.

A Healthy Diet – No specific diet has been proven to influence fibromyalgia, however many sufferers report feeling better when they eat or avoid certain foods, the NIAMSD said. Patients can discuss with their physician what a healthy, balanced diet looks like.

For more information on fibromyalgia or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit http://www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor.

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