WIMBERLEY, Texas (KXAN) — You may not have heard of it, and you sure don’t want to have it. Fibromyalgia: chronic severe pain all over your body, fatigue and often times depression to go along with it. Six and a half million Americans suffer from it, 80% of them women. It is difficult to diagnose and tricky to treat, but now thanks to research and experience doctors are learning how to spot and manage it.
Symptoms hit Kim Murphy eight years ago. She recalls, “I remember getting out of bed and I went down as soon as my feet hit, and I didn’t understand why.” She was mystified and doctors were stumped. She was hospitalized twice. The problem is you can only diagnose it by eliminating all the other options. Dr. Brannon Frank, medical director at Austin Pain Associates, explains, “There’s no physical findings, no lab test. There’s nothing physically I can see on a patient, or find in my physical exam to say ‘oh there’s the diagnosis for fibromyalgia’. And some people aren’t trained to find this.”
For years many doctors thought it was psychosomatic, but now they are realizing it is a very real physical disorder. According to Dr. Frank, “For awhile they thought it was in the patient’s head, it was all psychological, but we’re realizing it’s a true problem patients can have and they do experience pain over their whole body.”
Kim Murphy is a glass working artist in Wimberley, but as things worsened her work was becoming impossible. Life was becoming impossible. “When the symptoms started getting worse I wasn’t able to go to anything, go anywhere. I couldn’t work, and the quality of life, there wasn’t any. I thought ‘Is this it’?”
After years of research they now know fibromyalgia is a neurological disorder, where the spinal cord amplifies pain signals to the brain. That magnified pain can bring on depression, and depression only makes it worse. Dr. Frank says, “If you don’t help a patient with their emotions their emotions can exacerbate their pain and the pain makes their emotions worse, and this becomes a vicious cycle.”
Austin Pain Associates tried a multi-dimensional approach with Kim now favored by many. The process included medication for the pain, an intravenous infusion to tamper down the spinal cord signals, a change in diet, behavioral and physical therapy and techniques to relieve stress. Kim is now back at work, soothed by gentle music and her yoga, her path forward as clear as glass. She says, “I was feeling pretty hopeless, so this gave me hope back, it gave me my life back. I’m able to manage it instead of it managing me. I’m living with fibromyalgia, it’s not getting me and that’s a huge difference.”
Taking a closer look at the mysteries of fibromyalgia, it is marked by chronic, widespread pain all over the body. Symptoms include the tingling of the skin, prolonged muscle spasms, weakness in the limbs, pain in the joints, bowel disturbances, fatigue and difficulty sleeping. All that can be accompanied by depression and anxiety. You cannot cure it, but it can be managed.