How is fibromyalgia treated?

People with fibromyalgia receive individual treatment based on several factors, including their overall health, medical history, number of tender points, severity of pain, and any other symptoms.

Treatment for fibromyalgia includes:

  • Education about fibromyalgia and goal setting.
  • Lifestyle changes, including stress reduction.
  • Lifelong exercise.
  • Relaxation techniques to relieve muscle tension.
  • Medications that reduce pain and improve sleep.

No currently existing medications completely relieve fibromyalgia pain. However, acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is both helpful and safer than other analgesics (pain-relieving medications).

Medications help only to a certain extent. Drugs in the category of antidepressants and gabapentinoids are used to treat fibromyalgia. They help reduce pain and improve mood and the quality of sleep.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin and ibuprofen, may help reduce pain, but should be used sparingly. These drugs have many side effects, including stomach upset and fluid retention. They may also have unfavorable interactions with other drugs, such as high blood pressure medications. (These drugs are not currently recommended for the treatment of fibromyalgia.)

Glucocorticosteroids such as prednisone and cortisone are contraindicated (should not be used). There is no benefit for immunosuppressive medications, since fibromyalgia is not an inflammatory condition. There is a strong agreement among specialists that opioid medications are not indicated and should not be prescribed for fibromyalgia pain.

Exercise

Fibromyalgia is an exercise deprivation syndrome (the lack of exercise makes symptoms worse). It is recommended that patients start a graded exercise program and continue exercising regularly throughout their entire lives. Feeling more tired and achy after exercise is usual and is not a contraindication for exercise.

Brisk walking, biking, swimming, and water aerobics are good activities to choose when starting your exercise program. Your doctor can help you choose an exercise program that's right for you.

Taking part in aerobic exercise for half an hour, 3 times a week, is an important step toward improving fibromyalgia symptoms. Exercise increases heart and lung function and stretches tight, sore muscles.

Coping with stress

Certain stress factors in life (such as financial burdens, or difficulties with a boss, coworkers, or your spouse) may not be easily eliminated. Evaluating the causes of stress and learning new ways to cope may improve fibromyalgia symptoms. Anxiety and depression are major contributors to stress and must be treated to allow fibromyalgia to improve.

Relaxation techniques can help relieve muscle tension and reduce stress. Professionals trained in stress management can teach you these techniques.

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