Fibromyalgia Newly Diagnosed

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Newly diagnosed individuals with fibromyalgia face a long battle toward effective management and disease control. No two individuals experience fibromyalgia in exactly the same way, therefore no two individuals will manage their symptoms with the same therapies. Though individual preferences and options will vary, effective self-management strategies are usually multifaceted and involve a combination of personal education, a team of multidisciplinary care providers, a support group, and a means of evaluating both symptoms and therapeutic progress. Once assembled, these self-management tools can then be utilized in a process of ‘intelligent trial-and-error’ that can help the newly-diagnosed fibromyalgia patient evaluate and validate various treatment approaches.

Take Responsibility

Taking individual responsibility for management and control of fibromyalgia is crucial to the newly-diagnosed patient. The uncertain origins of fibromyalgia and myriad of treatment options available can result in confusion, hopelessness, and fear. Fortunately, through self-guided education and research, those negative feelings and fears can be transformed through action into hope. By taking responsibility, patients accept the reality that action is required in order to successfully understand and control their fibromyalgia. Furthermore, gaining knowledge though self-directed research can itself be an effective therapy.

Newly-diagnosed patients should begin their educational journey with the understanding that fibromyalgia, while it may seem like a formidable opponent, is not a death sentence. It is not, by nature, degenerative or necessarily progressive and can be managed effectively. How easy the management process is will vary from patient to patient, as all fibromyalgia patients experience the syndrome in markedly different ways and therefore require different therapies. Symptom-tracking and goal-setting are crucial to taking responsibility for fibromyalgia. It is important to track symptom severity and other descriptive details that may be of relevance to better understanding how Fibromyalgia is being manifested in your body. Patients should take note of what they understand, what they do not understand, and any questions they have.

With regard to goal-setting, it is important to set tangible, rather than vague, goals and develop strategies to help achieve them. For example, a vague goal would be something like “I want to feel better.” A tangible goal is one to which specific actions can be tied, and would include something such as “I want to fall asleep faster when I go to bed at night.” Achieving fibromyalgia-associated goals requires taking small, incremental experimenting steps that build on each other and culminate in eventual progress toward you goal. It is important to put aside expectations of instant gratification, because the reality of fibromyalgia is such that it takes time to tame and conquer. The best thing a newly-diagnosed individual can do is to accept this reality and plan accordingly when establishing goals. For example, if it normally takes an hour to fall asleep in the evening, work toward improving that time to 45 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 20 minutes. Setting these incremental goals fosters sustainable change and provides a source of motivation.

Build a Team

Building a team to help take action against your fibromyalgia is critically important to the newly-diagnosed fibromyalgia patient. An effective team will usually include the patient’s primary care physician along with specialists from a variety of disciplines. Specialists that may need to be involved in the patient’s care team vary according to the symptoms the patient has, but may include a rheumatologist, orthopedist, neurologist, psychiatrist, psychologist, chiropractor, massage therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and/or dietitian.

Support groups are also highly valuable. They provide insight into how fibromyalgia manifests itself in the lives of others and offer newly-diagnosed patients an understanding and non-judgmental environment in which they can exchange ideas and concerns. Furthermore, since support groups are comprised of individuals with similar trials and obstacles, they can be of use to the newly-diagnosed patient by helping them better understand their own fibromyalgia and evaluate various treatment options in context. 

Family members can also be valuable team members. The support of sympathetic spouses, partners, and relatives can have a huge impact on one’s ability to manage their fibromyalgia, by assisting with daily tasks and reducing stressful burdens.

Evaluating Treatment Options

Many co-morbid conditions exist alongside fibromyalgia, therefore it is important to focus on the ones you have, as well as the cumulative symptoms, in order to begin planning effective treatment strategies. Once you have an understanding of your fibromyalgia and its associated conditions, you can then, in collaboration with your team, determine the best strategy for your treatment. Newly diagnosed individuals should be particularly careful not to be persuaded toward one method of treatment or the other by the pharmaceutical or dietary supplement industries. What works for one person may not work for you; therefore treatment should be specifically tailored to your individual fibromyalgia and its causal factors. No one understands your fibromyalgia better than you.

What is most important for the newly-diagnosed fibromyalgia patient to understand in terms of treatment is that no one therapy will likely provide comprehensive benefit. Research has consistently shown that a combined, multidisciplinary approach to treatment – involving pharmaceutical therapy, dietary modifications and supplementation, alternative therapies (such as acupuncture and massage therapy), and regular aerobic exercise – will provide the greatest and most sustainable benefits to those suffering from fibromyalgia.

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References

Williams DA, Kuper D, Segar M, Mohan N, Sheth M, Clauw DJ. Internet-enhanced management of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. Pain. 2010;151(3):694-702.

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