Fibromyalgia affects 2.4% of the population -more than 1 million people-, although recent European studies indicate that the percentage of affected people could be higher (between 3 and 4 people in 100), according to Antonio Collado Cruz, president of the Spanish Society of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (SEFIFAC).
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It is a chronic disease of unknown cause that affects the functioning of the nociceptive system, that is, the part of the nervous system that is responsible for the processing of pain in our body. This affectation alters the nociceptive neurological fibers that run through our body and its organization at the cerebral level. In addition to generalized pain throughout the body, it also affects neurovegetative control (responsible for involuntary functions such as digestion, sweating, heart rate …).
Although the majority of patients diagnosed are between 45 and 50 years old, it can also occur in younger people, from 20 to 30 years of age. As for gender, women leave very badly unemployed because they represent 85% of those affected.
A difficult diagnosis due to the similarity with other ailments
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The main symptom is continued pain in large areas of the body-cervical area, upper shoulder and back, lower back, buttocks, proximal part of arms, hands, thighs, knees or ankles-which worsens with certain positions, physical burdens and emotional activation, although sometimes it is accentuated spontaneously and without an apparent trigger.
“Some patients describe this pain as ‘generalized’ because it covers large areas, in addition to being accompanied by a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion, alteration of the night’s rest and moods or difficulties in our ability to concentrate,” explains Collado Cruz.
Fibromyalgia affects 2.4% of the population, that is, more than 1 million people ”
It is usually associated with chronic fatigue syndrome -between 50% and 70% of patients with fibromyalgia-, a condition defined by chronic severe fatigue that produces a very significant limitation of functional capacity.
The experts of the Mayo Clinic point out that since symptoms are so similar to those of other diseases and there is no specific test for this disease, it is more complicated to find an adequate diagnosis. “It can not be confirmed or ruled out easily by a blood test or radiography, but seems to be linked to changes in the way the brain and spinal cord process pain signals,” they explain in the portal.
First, other problems such as rheumatic diseases, mental health problems or neurological disorders should be ruled out. Even so, after going through certain tests – complete blood count, red blood cell sedimentation rate, thyroid function analysis, vitamin D levels … – and if the patient complies with a series of indications – irritable bowel syndrome, head pain and the jaw, anxiety and depression, painful urination … – it can be confirmed.
Collado Cruz says that it has not yet been possible to determine if it is linked to a certain gene or group of genes, but they are convinced of their genetic predisposition. Not only because it affects women more, but because if you have a first-degree relative who suffers it, you can increase the risk of suffering it by eight. However, qualifies that the most likely is that it never gets to develop.
How it affects patients and what solutions exist
This condition can affect the quality of life and environment of those who suffer from it. According to a 2014 study on the impact on work, family and social environment in patients with fibromyalgia in Spain, published in BMC Health Services Research, 70% of patients attended in primary care centers said they had great difficulty to perform at work, while 23% are permanently disabled. Likewise, 44% said they depended a lot or almost entirely on a member of the family to perform domestic tasks.
Unfortunately there is no definitive cure, Collado Cruz explains that the treatment helps to improve the symptomatology. It usually consists of a combination of some drugs, capable of improving the excitability and sensitization of the nociceptive system (although not everyone responds the same) with cognitive-behavioral and occupational therapy and supervised physical exercise. Nevertheless, the expert assures that an early diagnosis will help to obtain better results.