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Fibromyalgia - What Is It and Can Heat Therapy Help?

The medical term fibromyalgia is made from the terms ‘fibro’ which refers to fibrous tissues like tendons and ligaments, ‘my’ indicating muscles and ‘algia’ which means pain. Fibromyalgia is a disease characterized by widespread burning and aching of muscles and joints with fatigue which may be mild to severe. The prevalence of fibromyalgia in European countries is believed to be between 2.9% and 4.7% making it more common that rheumatoid arthritis.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes widespread pain and fatigue. Most people who suffer from fibromyalgia have specific tender points. These are areas on the body, usually on the neck, shoulders, arms, hips and legs that hurt whenever there is pressure on them. There are other symptoms as well that can really affect the patient’s quality of life.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Not everyone who suffers from fibromyalgia will experience the same symptoms. The pain of fibromyalgia may affect the entire body or it may be particularly severe in a few areas.  The most difficult symptom to manage is often the chronic fatigue associated with the disease.  Other symptoms may include headache, mild depression, poor concentration and tingling, numbness or swelling of the hands and feet. Difficulty sleeping or waking during the night may is not unusual. Many people also experience 'fibro fog', which is a phrase used to describe problems with memory and other cognitive skills. The severity of the symptoms may vary throughout the day.

Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia

There are no tests which can conclusively diagnose fibromyalgia. Doctors normally perform tests to rule out other diseases which have similar symptoms, like rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and lupus. There is a correlation between the incidence of fibromyalgia and mental health disorders like depression and a doctor will take a detailed history from the patient to assist in making the diagnosis.

The Causes of Fibromyalgia

The causes of fibromyalgia are not known although medical researchers have proposed a number of theories. Some of these factors might include stressful or traumatic events, illness, repetitive injuries, and genetics. People who have certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more likely to have fibromyalgia. Women are seven times more likely to be afflicted with fibromyalgia then men and some theorists believe it is due hormonal imbalances or lower serotonin levels in the brain. There are theorists who believe that brain and spinal cord injuries may cause fibromyalgia while others think an increased level of a chemical called ‘substance P’ may amplify pain causing the symptoms.

Controlling Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Treatment for fibromyalgia patients is often problematic since the causes of the disease are still unknown. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition and most medication to relieve pain can have side effects if used often or over a long period of time. Most doctors recommend a healthy balanced diet, regular physical exercise and relaxation techniques to help control symptoms. Since there is no inflammation associated with fibromyalgia, anti-inflammatories are ineffective.

Heat Therapy for Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Heat therapy is an ancient remedy for muscle pain. It improves circulation and oxygenation, relieves muscle cramps and promotes relaxation. The application of microwave heat pads or wheat bags can help relieve muscle pain in fibromyalgia patients when left in place for 8 to 10 minutes. Microwave heat pads and wheat bags are an inexpensive treatment which can provide significant relief from pain and may help to relieve stress which is thought to contribute to symptoms.

Heat therapy helps to reduce the signals sent to the brain from the affected nerves. It promotes better circulation, which can also reduce pain and discomfort. Heat therapy helps the muscles to relax, which can often provide relief and allow for more restful sleep.

There is no cure for fibromyalgia but, as with many chronic conditions, a healthy lifestyle can reduce flare-ups and help control symptoms. Heat therapy with microwave heat pads and wheat bags can alleviate pain and promote relaxation without the harmful side effects of many medications. Most fibromyalgia patients can lead normal, productive lives.