Treating a Child with Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia affects over 5 million Americans. About one in six of those are under 18. Fibromyalgia was once considered an adult disorder, but that’s obviously not true.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder characterized by fatigue, stiffness in many areas, tenderness in at least 11 out of 18 pressure points which are located in the hips, thighs, buttocks, neck and chest.

Fibromyalgia does not show up on laboratory diagnostics such as x-rays, blood tests and scans. Therefore, a person with this condition will test normal while feeling less than that. It’s important to note that the criterion for diagnosis of FMS in children is a little different from that of adults. Only 5 – 11 tender points need to be sensitive for a child to be deemed fibromyalgic.

Girls are more likely to develop this condition than boys. The symptoms of FMS usually start during adolescence, which occurs roughly between the ages of 13 – 15. Children with sleep disturbances are more likely to become fibromyalgic as are those with preexisting conditions such as Raynaud’s Phenomenon, PMS, irritable bowel syndrome and restless leg syndrome. Although no one yet knows how this condition is triggered, it is known to have a genetic component. So, if you are a parent with FMS, your child is more likely to develop the condition too.

Of course, it’s hard for a parent to watch their child struggle. Because children don’t know how to quantify or qualify pain, many of us have a hard time understanding just how much pain our child is dealing with. Complaints of chronic pain should not be ignored or dismissed as ‘mere growing pains.’ Many experts know now that it shouldn’t hurt to grow. If it does, then your child may need some medical attention.

The good news about juvenile fibromyalgia is that it is treatable and, the prognosis for the condition in children is more favorable than it is with adults. Some studies have shown that children improve more rapidly than adults with fibromyalgia and, in some instances, may even outgrow the syndrome.

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Treatments for fibromyalgia in children include: education, therapy, medication and exercise. If your child has fibromyalgia, chances are you’ll have some explaining to do. Fibromyalgia is a difficult enough condition to grasp if you are an adult who has it. You and your doctor will need to talk honestly with the child and give him or her age-appropriate facts. This requires that you have more than a working knowledge of the condition. There are a variety of internet-based support groups as well as more formal, face-to-face groups that can help you learn about and deal with this condition. There are also a variety of books, pamphlets and brochures you can browse through too. Your doctor and/or specialist will most likely provide you with reading materials and a basic overview of the condition.

Soon, you will find that you and your family will be living with the condition day-to-day (or day-by-day may be more like it, especially at first). It’s imperative that your entire family maintains as normal a lifestyle as possible while still being sensitive to your ill child’s needs. That’s a delicate balance to maintain. Depending upon the severity of the child’s condition, you may need to adjust his or her schedule by changing or eliminating certain activities.

Priorities will probably change. Unfortunately, the child should never be made to feel that they are to blame for the condition or these lifestyle changes. Others may think and say that he is just lazy or she’s faking it to get out of certain activities, but you, as the parent, will have to hold firm and be an advocate for your child. Fibromyalgia is a painful and debilitating condition. It’s no joke and your child may be facing criticism at school, on the playground and just about everywhere else. Home should be a safe haven for him or her.

Therapy may be necessary for your child especially if they are exhibiting signs of depression. It’s best to choose a therapist who has expertise in dealing with chronic illnesses so that they can assist your child in dealing with the negative feelings they may have. Family counseling may benefit everyone because the child isn’t facing fibromyalgia alone. The condition does affect the entire family and may cause tension. Having an objective third-party to intervene will usually improve the situation.

Therapy can also help the fibromyalgic child cope with tension and/or stress in more healthy ways. Many children with this condition don’t know how to manage their stress and are often high-achievers who try to do too much. They are also hard on themselves and may be prone to other self-esteem related problems too. Some studies have shown that therapy, specifically of the cognitive-behavioral type, can help improve fibromyalgia symptoms in some children. Therapy can also help to alleviate the anxiety and depression symptoms which often accompany this disease.

Antidepressants such as Elavil, which is of the SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) variety, are often given to fibromyalgics to help decrease the intensity of the pain and improve the quality of the child’s sleep. Restoring normal sleep rhythms is a major goal of the treatment process as it can improve many of the symptoms of this condition.

Muscle relaxants like Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) also help stimulate sleep, much like antidepressants do. They generally work in conjunction with each other and pain medications such as NSAIDs. NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen and Motrin. Each of these medications can have negative interactions with others so, if your child is prescribed anything, it is always best to make sure your doctor and/or specialist knows what other medications and supplements your child takes.

The final treatment that is common for juvenile fibromyalgia is exercise. Of course, the child is discouraged from overexerting him or herself; however, regular activity helps one in managing fibromyalgia quite significantly. Exercise improves cardiovascular health, and musculoskeletal fitness, which are all beneficial to the fibromyalgic child. Recommended activities include: brisk walking, bicycle riding, swimming, stretching and other low-impact, aerobic activities.

Although fibromyalgia manifests itself differently in children than it does in adults, the treatment options for juvenile fibromyalgics are quite similar to those of adults. Support, therapy, medication and exercise can improve your child’s lifelong emotional and physical fitness. Even if they don’t outgrow the condition, they will be better off for the coping mechanisms, support, love and healthy habits that they’ve learned as a result of these treatments.

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March 12, 2020

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