CINCINNATI—When patients visit Shay Stanford, MD, they are in pain. And they have usually told their story to countless others who haven’t been able to—or just can’t—help them.
Stanford, dually trained in family medicine and psychiatry, treats patients for the chronic condition known as fibromyalgia.
Some doctors don’t even believe fibromyalgia exists. And many who believe it’s a real condition still disagree about what causes it and who should be responsible for managing and treating it. But one thing’s for sure: Patients who have fibromyalgia are suffering.
Affecting 2 to 4 percent of the population, fibromyalgia is seven times more likely to show up in women than in men. There is no blood test for fibromyalgia, and this misunderstood condition is often mistaken for lupus, multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis. So these diseases must be ruled out before fibromyalgia is diagnosed.
On the surface, fibromyalgia is virtually invisible. Patients describe intense pain throughout the body. Some describe it as an “ache” or a tingling or shocking feeling. Others, Stanford says, have described what feels like fire or burning in the connective tissue under their skin.
The painful condition often carries with it other symptoms, including fatigue, depression, anxiety, headaches, sleep disturbances, stiffness, irritable bowel syndrome, restless legs, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.
“Many people are able to develop coping strategies to deal with the pain, but have a hard time handling the fatigue or depression that often comes along with fibromyalgia,” says Stanford.
At UC’s Women’s Health Research Program (WHRP) Treatment Center, Stanford works to manage fibromyalgia by scheduling longer-than-normal appointments and by coming up with personalized treatment plans for her patients. She collaborates with rheumatologists, sleep specialists, neurologists, psychiatrists and physical therapists to determine the best ways for treating patients.
And because she’s based in the WHRP, her patients have access to cutting-edge research trials that test a variety of medications for fibromyalgia.
Stanford sees both adolescents and adults with fibromyalgia. She says it’s particularly tough on teens.
“They feel horrible,” she says. “Many times it keeps them from enjoying the activities they love. The age of the person really has a lot to do with how fibromyalgia affects their lives.”
Stanford sees her background in psychiatry as a major advantage for patients seeking treatment.
“Because many fibromyalgia symptoms, including pain, are helped by medications used to treat certain neurological and psychiatric conditions linked to changes in the brain’s chemistry, knowing more about these types of drugs, their dosing and any interactions is extremely important.”
For more information about the treatment center, call (513) 475-9477.