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Muscular pain and fatigue syndrome hard to diagnose

Wrist support March 18, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EST

From Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Samantha Terris looks and acts just like a typical college student. She has a double major and she studies hard.

She does medical research, is active in her sorority and residence hall. But although her mind and spirit are willing, her body often fails her. Samantha says she has an occasional week during which she can't participate in any activities. "The pain is beyond anything," she said. (127K AIFF sound or 127K WAV sound)

Samantha Terris Samantha suffers from fibromyalgia, which was diagnosed at age 14. Like most patients with the syndrome, she went from doctor to doctor before she found an answer for her symptoms.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by general muscle pain and fatigue.

"The American College of Rheumatology has specific criteria that you have to have widespread pain above and below the waist and on both sides of the body. And that it actually affects people for at least three months," explained Dr. Hayes Wilson, of Piedmont Rheumatology Consultants in Atlanta.

Patients also might have tenderness in various joints or areas of the body.

The condition has been recognized more over the last five to 10 years because of the recently detailed criteria.

Not everyone experiences the same symptoms. Samantha and her mother are a perfect example; Elissa Terris was diagnosed four years ago.

Mother and daughter "My end is more the fatigue, the associated symptoms, the irritable bowel, the irritable bladder, severe vertigo at times," she said.

Fibromyalgia affects mostly women. Its cause is unknown; it has no known cure. Most patients get only limited relief from medications.

The one treatment that has been scientifically proven to help is physical exercise.

Elissa Terris and many other fibromyalgia patients find refuge in support groups. They find understanding among fellow sufferers when they found little in friends and family.

Others turn to self-help programs like one offered by the Arthritis Foundation. Patients learn techniques to manage symptoms such as pain, stress and fatigue. (87K AIFF sound or 87K WAV sound)

A small percentage of patients will not improve. A minority will get over it. The rest can learn to deal with it effectively as a chronic condition.

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