Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder characterised by a wide variety of symptoms. As a disease, it has not always been well understood, and many patients struggle to have fibromyalgia diagnosed and treated appropriately.
The NHS suggests that up to 1 in 20 people may be affected by fibromyalgia to some degree, making it a considerable health issue affecting the United Kingdom. Patients diagnosed with this condition turn to a variety of treatment strategies to help manage symptoms, including medication, psychology, exercise, and medical cannabis.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Part of the difficulty in diagnosing fibromyalgia is the broad range of symptoms that accompany the condition. It is often mistaken for other diseases, preventing patients from accessing the help they really need.
Someone diagnosed with fibromyalgia may experience any or all of the following symptoms:
- Fatigue and difficulty sleeping
- Trouble focusing and memory lapses
- Dry eyes
- Rash and itching
- Bladder issues
- Depression and anxiety
- Musculoskeletal pain
The last symptom is probably the most common. Most, if not all patients suffering from fibromyalgia report widespread pain lasting longer than three months. The pain affects muscles and patients may report tenderness at particular trigger points.
What causes fibromyalgia?
While they have several theories, medical researchers are yet to prove what causes fibromyalgia.
There is some evidence that fibromyalgia has a genetic component as it tends to run in families. A genetic mutation may be the root cause of the disease. Past infections, including the flu, pneumonia, and Epstein-Barr virus may also trigger or exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms.
It is believed too that trauma and stress may play a role. Patients who have undergone a particularly traumatic event, like a car crash, often struggle to recover on both a physical and psychological level. Prolonged levels of stress are linked to the condition.
How do I obtain a diagnosis of fibromyalgia?
If you believe you are suffering from fibromyalgia, your first step should be to visit your GP. They will be able to rule out any conditions with similar symptoms.
Diagnosing fibromyalgia is quite difficult as there is no one test that conclusively states you have the condition. Fibromyalgia won’t show up in blood tests or scans. Instead, your doctor will likely start by ruling out any similar conditions, like chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, or multiple sclerosis.
From there, your doctor will assess how severe your pain is and what areas of your body are affected. They may also recommend you consult other health professionals, like a pain specialist, physiotherapist, or psychologist, to confirm the diagnosis.
What options are available to manage my symptoms?
Managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia can be quite difficult, given their broad and comprehensive nature. No two patients are likely to adopt the same approach.
Unfortunately, there is no current cure for the condition. Patients utilise a wide variety of strategies to help manage pain and other associated symptoms. These strategies include:
- Medication: painkillers, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, medical cannabis and other prescription medications may be recommended.
- Psychological help: depression and anxiety are common symptoms of fibromyalgia. Speaking to a mental health professional can help patients deal with their emotional wellbeing.
- Exercise: some patients find that movement, particularly low-impact activities like walking and swimming, helps keep joints mobile.
- Diet: following a nutritious diet and drinking plenty of water may help ease symptoms.
I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia — how may medical cannabis help?
Medical cannabis was legalised in the United Kingdom in 2018. Since then, the medication has been prescribed to patients suffering from a variety of physical and psychological conditions, including fibromyalgia.
It’s important to note that medical cannabis cannot cure fibromyalgia.
Whether or not medical cannabis to help manage fibromyalgia is an appropriate option for you is a question that can only be answered by a medical professional.
How do I obtain a prescription for medical cannabis?
Not all doctors in the UK are able to prescribe medical cannabis — they must be listed on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council.
If your general practitioner is not on this list, they may be able to refer you to a medical cannabis specialist. Alternatively, there are medical cannabis doctors available online for telehealth consultations, meaning patients throughout the UK can access this service.
A medical cannabis specialist will ask you a series of questions regarding your condition and medical history to determine whether medical cannabis to help manage fibromyalgia will be of assistance.
Bridget is a writer and editor, currently living in Melbourne. She is a copywriter for Newpath Web and loves working with words of all shapes and sizes. When not playing around with punctuation and grammar, she enjoys travelling and curating her Spotify playlists.