During the development of the 5-HTP+ Patch, my team and I did a lot of research in to the interplay of psychological and physical issues in common disorders and the emergence of new classifications of disorders in recent history. It’s interesting that in the first paper that defined the diagnostic guidelines for Fibromyalgia, the lead author Dr Wolfe stated that the causes of this condition are “controversial in a sense” and indeed that:
“there are many factors that produce these symptoms – some are psychological and some are physical and it does exist on a continuum.”
Fibromyalgia has only been recently recognised as a disorder, and is a common cause of chronic musculoskeletal pain and discomfort.
The symptoms can be described as having aches or stiffness in at least 3 parts of your body for at least 3 months, with at least 6 tender points. There are other associated symptoms such as chronic headaches, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and numbing sensations in the body’s extremities. Although the diagnostic guidelines are getting more clear, and indeed diagnoses are increasing with general medical understanding, the causes are still unknown. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a clinical review of Fibromyalgia, by Dr Clauw, which states that the condition is estimated to affect 2-8% of the population, and other studies show there are significantly more occurrences in females than males (9:1 as per this paper).
In 2010, the diagnostic guidelines were updated, and recently Dr Clauw explained that he sees Fibromyalgia as a spectrum disorder and also polysymptomatic. These two clarifications are really helpful to those looking to understand this condition; the former meaning that diagnosis is not a binary “yes” or “no”, but rather a continuum of severity experienced by people, with the medical communities needing to establish a norm, beyond which Fibromyalgia is formally diagnosed. The latter simply means that it causes a range of different distresses in the body. The UK psychiatrist Simon Wesley described illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia being at the end of a continuum of polysymptomatic distress.
A lot of discussion online gives potential treatments and cures, and WebMD has a useful section of Fibromyaligia, which includes a whole range of potential ways to treat it, as well as reviews of those treatments. These treatments tend to range from exercise, to anti-depressants, to herbal alternatives. Although there are some studies on the efficacy of the latter, as always it is important to speak to your doctor about your symptoms. The normal recommendations are to raise serotonin levels, improve sleep, and ensure there are adequate magnesium levels in the body.