I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. What should I do now?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition. This means that it affects you over a long period of time – possibly your entire life. There will be times when your fibromyalgia may “flare up” and your symptoms will be worse. Other times you will feel much better. The good news is that your symptoms can be managed.
It’s important to have a health care team that understands fibromyalgia and has experience treating it. Your team will probably include your family doctor, a rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in pain in the joints and soft tissue) and a physical therapist. Other health care professionals may help you manage other symptoms, such as mood or sleep problems. However, the most important member of your health care team is you. The more active you are in your care, the better you will feel.
An Important Note about Your Care
You will need to follow your doctor’s recommendations carefully. Making changes in your lifestyle and daily habits can help you feel better. Remember, your treatment won’t be as effective if you don’t take an active role in your health care.
How do I take an active role in my health care?
There isn’t currently a cure for fibromyalgia. Your care will focus on helping you minimize the impact of fibromyalgia on your life and treating your symptoms. Your doctor can prescribe medicine to help with your pain, but there are other things you will need to do to ease your symptoms. This is called “self-management.”
Self-management means that you take responsibility for doing what it takes to manage fibromyalgia effectively. It’s important for you to be responsible for your health. The treatment recommendations your doctor makes won’t do any good unless you follow them. He or she can’t make decisions for you or make you change your behavior. Only you can do these things.
In self-management, you and your health care team are partners in care. Your health care team can provide valuable advice and information to help you deal with fibromyalgia. However, there isn’t one treatment plan that works best for every person who has fibromyalgia. You’ll have to work with your care team to create a plan that’s right for you. After all, nobody knows more than you do about your feelings, your actions and how your fibromyalgia symptoms affect you.
How can self-management help?
The following are some ways you can take an active role in managing your fibromyalgia symptoms:
Maintain a healthy outlook
Work with your health care team to choose realistic, short-term goals to manage your symptoms. Focus on what you can do today to feel better. Tell your doctor if you have been feeling depressed or anxious. These feelings are common among people who live with the pain and frustration of fibromyalgia. Your doctor may suggest cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need to deal with fibromyalgia. Support can come from your health care team, as well as friends and family members. For example, you could ask a friend to be your exercise buddy. There are also support groups specifically for people who have fibromyalgia.
Take medicines exactly as prescribed
Your doctor may prescribe medicines to reduce your pain, improve your mood and help you sleep better. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about each medicine and why you’re taking it. Be sure to take all medicines according to your doctor’s instructions.
One of the best things you can do if you have fibromyalgia is engage in moderate exercise on a regular basis. Exercise can reduce your pain, give you more energy, reduce stress and help you sleep better. If you’re not used to exercising, be sure to talk to your doctor before you start. If you have a physical therapist on your health care team, he or she can help you develop an exercise routine that’s right for you. It’s usually best to start with low-impact aerobic exercise (for example, walking or water aerobics) for a short period of time a few days a week. As your pain decreases and your energy increases, you can gradually increase the intensity and frequency of your exercise.
Recognize stress and take steps to reduce it
Because stress makes the symptoms of fibromyalgia worse, it’s important to recognize when you’re feeling stressed. Signs of stress may include a feeling of tension in your shoulders or neck, an upset stomach or a headache. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to completely get rid of stress in your life. However, you can focus on changing the way you react to stress. For example, you might set aside time each day to practice deep-breathing techniques or meditation.
Establish healthy sleep habits
Lack of sleep can make your fibromyalgia symptoms worse. And increased pain makes it hard to get restful sleep. To avoid getting caught in this cycle, try to have healthy sleeping habits. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day (including weekends), and limit naps during the day.
Get into a routine
Many people who have fibromyalgia do better when their schedule follows a routine pattern. This usually means that each day they have meals at the same times, go to bed and get up at the same times, and exercise at the same time. Try to keep your weekend and holiday schedules as similar to your weekday schedule as possible.
Make healthy lifestyle choices
By making healthy choices, you’ll have more energy, you’ll feel better and you’ll lower your risk for other health problems. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. If you use tobacco products, stop. Lose weight if you are overweight.
What medicines might my doctor recommend to help my symptoms?
Several medicines can help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Many of these medicines are taken before bedtime and help reduce pain and improve sleep.
Your doctor may recommend treating your symptoms with acetaminophen (one brand: Tylenol) first. He or she may also recommend an anti-depressant, such as duloxetine or milnacipran. Anti-seizure medicines, such as preglabin, may also be effective in managing your pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (which include ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen) are not usually effective in treating fibromyalgia when taken alone.
See a list of resources used in the development of this information.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff