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Are you in constant pain? Do you feel exhausted all the time but don't know why?

You may have fibromyalgia which is often associated with muscular pain and stiffness in the joints.  Pain may also extend to other parts of the body such as the soft tissues and tendon points.

More women than men were affected by fibromyalgia, mostly between the ages of 35 and 55. The causes of fibromyalgia are unclear but symptoms can be triggered by emotional or physical stress.

A difficult diagnosis

As the symptoms vary widely from patient to patient, it is difficult to diagnose fibromyalgia with a physical examination.

“Many medical conditions, like low thyroid hormone levels, muscle diseases and cancer, can also cause pain in different parts of the body,” explains Dr Tan Kian Hian, Director of the Pain Management Centre and Senior Consultant at the Department of Anaesthesiology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

To make the task even more challenging, doctors cannot directly rely on blood tests or X-rays. Instead, they can only use blood tests to exclude medical conditions. For these reasons, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia may take months or even years.

Dr Tan adds: “Fibromyalgia is also often misunderstood by the people around the patient. In fact, family, friends and colleagues may not believe that the patient is actually sick.”

Treating the pain

Once the diagnosis of fibromyalgia is confirmed, the patient faces yet another problem – there is currently no cure for the condition.

Fortunately, there are ways to control the symptoms so that the patient can have a better quality of life. Some of the treatment options include:

  1. Prescription drugs
    To reduce the pain, doctors may prescribe medication such as analgesics, antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs.
  2. Alternative treatments
    These include massage therapy for muscle relief, yoga practices and even traditional Chinese medicine approaches like acupuncture.
  3. Lifestyle changes
    Making certain lifestyle changes can mean a world of difference in pain relief for fibromyalgia patients. These changes include:
    • Moderate exercise: Being in chronic pain means that you probably don’t want to exercise. But it is crucial to get moving. Dr Tan adds: “Low-impact exercises such as water aerobics, brisk walking and cycling are effective. Set realistic goals and don’t overexert yourself.”
    • Healthy eating: Try to eat a diet high in whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables. If it is difficult for you to prepare nutritious meals because of the pain, opt for easy-to-prepare dishes like salads.
    • Managing stress: Stress can trigger fibromyalgia symptoms, so find a way to reduce it. Remove yourself from stressful situations, allow yourself time to relax, learn to say no without guilt and try deep-breathing exercises.

About the SGH Pain Management Centre

The SGH Pain Management Centre is the first and largest in Singapore to serve patients with chronic, disabling disorders. Staffed by a team of specialists, nurses, physiotherapists and psychologists, the centre helps patients restore function and manage chronic pain through a multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary approach.

Reference: Mayo Clinic

Ref: Q15