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ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia mentioned in women's health article

Thursday 22 October 2009

Woman on stairsFrom

Women's health problems doctors still miss

(HEALTH.COM) -- Ashley Price felt terrible. She was tired, dizzy spells came and went, dark splotches popped up on her chest for no reason, and she'd gained 50 pounds in two years. Some days she was starving; other days she could barely eat. Her doc suggested that her problems would go away if Price just ate less and exercised more, even though she was dieting and working out regularly. Price demanded thyroid tests, only to have them come back normal.

Women may feel like their symptoms aren't taken seriously and that they're told to stop worrying.

Her doctor told her: "I have no idea what it is. Wait for it to go away." It didn't go away. "I could no longer think straight, no matter how hard I tried or what I did," Price says. Worse, she suffered three straight miscarriages.

Finally, four years after this nightmare began -- after the third miscarriage -- an ultrasound revealed that her ovaries were riddled with cysts. She had polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder; symptoms include irregular periods, infertility, brain fog, and obesity.

Price's gynecologist prescribed metformin, and she finally got some relief. "I had myself back," she remembers. "I had energy, I could think, I wasn't starving all the time." Best of all, she finally had a baby, born last June.

Price isn't alone. Experts say more women than we know walk out of doctors' offices feeling that their symptoms haven't been taken seriously. They are told that their complaints are all in their heads or that everything will be fine if they would just stop worrying.

The truth: Women who know something's wrong but can't get the help they need often have an autoimmune disorder, which occurs when the immune system attacks itself. One in five Americans has one, and three-quarters of them (about 22 million) are women. Some women live with unbearable symptoms for 10 or 15 years before finally getting the right diagnosis and treatment.

"More than 40 percent of women eventually diagnosed with a serious autoimmune disease have basically been told by a doctor that they're just too concerned with their health or they're a hypochondriac," says Virginia Ladd, founder and executive director of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association.

What's the best way to avoid Price's fate and get help fast? Ladd and other health experts say you must educate and empower yourself by learning the names, risk factors, symptoms, and treatments for the seven most commonly misdiagnosed women's illnesses described here. Then push your physician to take you seriously.

Later in the article is this:

2. Fibromyalgia

What is it, and who gets it?

Doctors aren't sure what causes the widespread pain that characterizes this disorder. They think the brains of people with fibromyalgia -- 3 million to 6 million women in the United States alone -- may interpret ordinary sensation as painful, what's known as central sensitivity syndrome.

How does it feel?

Symptoms, which usually develop during early and middle adulthood, include pain, numbness, and exhaustion. "It's like someone has turned up the volume in the nervous system," says Dr. Cassandra Curtis, a neurologist in Indianapolis who frequently treats fibromyalgia patients. Fibromyalgia pain: What's normal, what's not

How is it diagnosed?

A physical exam and lab tests can't find fibromyalgia, says Dr. James Leisen, division head of the department of rheumatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. Instead, doctors check for widespread pain lasting at least three months and do a tender-point exam, which identifies places on your body that are painful to the touch despite no signs of redness or swelling; the test is positive if at least 11 of the 18 points are tender.

How is it treated?

Over-the-counter pain meds like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen, as well as antidepressants (to treat pain and improve sleep patterns) are recommended. A prescription drug called Lyrica is helpful in some cases. Studies show that exercise helps, but it's important to go slow with a workout program. Massage, stretching, and any kind of stress relief may ease the hurt. "If patients are upset and emotional, the pain becomes worse," Leisen says.

3. Chronic fatigue syndrome

What is it, and who gets it?

Nobody knows what causes the extreme fatigue common to chronic fatigue syndrome. But studies point to dormant viral infections, hormonal imbalance, and stress. At least 1 million Americans are believed to have CFS, though less than 20 percent have been diagnosed. Women, especially in their 40s and 50s, are four times as likely as men to have it. "It may have something to do with hormonal changes and menopause," says integrative medicine expert Dr. Erika Schwartz, medical director of Cinergy Health, who treats women with hormonal disorders.

How does it feel?

The fatigue usually worsens with physical or mental activity and doesn't improve with rest, so people with CFS often function at a substantially lower level than they did before getting sick. Tasks like getting ready for the day or cleaning a room, which usually require an hour, may take several hours, if not days. Loss of memory or concentration and unexplained muscle pain are common, too.

How is it diagnosed?

There's no test, so before arriving at the diagnosis, a doctor will rule out other diseases or conditions that may cause similar symptoms -- like mononucleosis, Lyme disease, thyroid problems, or depression. 8 Causes of chronic cough

How is it treated?

A 2006 study found that psychostimulants like Ritalin lessen fatigue and improve concentration in some people, but the treatment is experimental. Most docs suggest moderate daily activity and exercise to boost stamina, plus more rest, and stress, alcohol, and caffeine reduction. Schwartz also prescribes bioidentical hormones: "Many patients improve when their hormones are balanced."

The diseases discussed are:

1. Polycystic ovary syndrome
2. Fibromyalgia
3. Chronic fatigue syndrome
4. Lupus
5. Multiple sclerosis
6. Rheumatoid arthritis
7. Irritable bowel syndrome

The full article can be found here.



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