What you need to know about Fibromyalgia and depression

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Fibromyalgia and depression seem to go hand in hand. After all, who wouldn’t be depressed when dealing with chronic pain every day? Fibro clearly isn’t all in your head, but it’s still a fact that many fibro patients also suffer from depression that is more chronic than acute. But studying the link between fibromyalgia and depression often seems like a question of the chicken or the egg: which came first? Here are the basics about how common depression is among fibro sufferers and what steps you can take to treat it.

How Common is Depression?

Depression has been called the problem of our modern age. Even in the general population, 1 in 10 people is taking antidepressants at any given time. Among fibro patients, however, the rate is much higher, with 25 percent of them dealing with depression. Depression is also twice as common among women as men, and about 95 percent of fibro sufferers are women (although it is widely suspected that many men go undiagnosed.) Researchers don’t know if depression is caused by fibromyalgia or the other way around, or if the two issues are unrelated.

Causes of Depression

Fibro sufferers have a lot of reasons to be depressed. One significant contributing factor is that the pain related to fibromyalgia makes it more difficult to get out of the house, which leads to isolation. Social isolation tends to lead to depression, especially if you used to be a very active person.

Most people with fibromyalgia also don’t get as much sleep as they need. The illness itself makes it difficult to get adequate amounts of restful sleep. Poor sleep also leads to depression.

The physical pain of fibromyalgia can make it more difficult to exercise as well, and exercise is known to be as effective as antidepressants in preventing depression.

How to Treat Depression and Fibromyalgia

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Fibro sufferers are still holding out for a cure that will enable them to return to more fulfilling lives without as much chronic pain. In the meantime, treatment of individual symptoms is the best hope. Treating depression and fibromyalgia usually includes one of the following approaches:

Antidepressant medications.

Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Savella (milnacipran) are antidepressants that are specifically FDA-approved for treating depression in fibromyalgia patients. Some evidence suggests that in addition to treating depression, it may also reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia like fatigue and sleep disturbances. Other commonly prescribed antidepressants include Prozac (fluoxetine) and Paxil (paroxetine), each of which has shown some benefit in treating pain and depressed mood.

Some doctors also prescribe low-doses of older antidepressants in the tricyclic category, such as Elavil (amitriptyline). In low doses, tricyclic antidepressants can improve sleep quality and provide mild pain relief.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy.

This type of focused therapy aims to teach you coping skills for your fibromyalgia symptoms. Retraining your thought processes can make it easier to deal with pain and depression.

Support groups.

Nobody knows quite what it’s like to have fibromyalgia than another person with fibromyalgia. Support groups can be incredibly useful in helping fibro sufferers to know that they’re not dealing with the pain alone, which can reduce feelings of isolation that are common in depression.

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