Fibromyalgia is a long-term (chronic) condition causing widespread pain and tenderness over the body. It’s quite common, reportedly, up to 1 person in every 25 may be affected, but since many people do not seek medical help, or are misdiagnosed there are more. There may be around 1.5 to 2 million people in the UK with Fibromyalgia, more common than those suffering with rheumatoid arthritis.
For more information visit the Fibromyalgia Action UK website. 5th February 2019
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (a syndrome is a group of symptoms that happen together) abbreviated to FMS. “Fibro” indicating fibrous tissues are involved, “my” meaning body and “algia” stands for pain.
People with fibromyalgia experience aches and pain all over the body, fatigue (extreme tiredness that does not get better with sleep or rest), problems sleeping and other symptoms and others in the collection of symptoms.
The Main Symptoms of Fibromyalgia are:
- Widespread Pain – may feel like burning, stabbing or shooting pain
- Extreme Tiredness (Fatigue) – excessive/unexplained tiredness, exhaustion
- Sleep Disturbance – non restorative sleep, troubles falling asleep and staying asleep
Below are many key symptoms that many people with the condition will experience and a host of other symptoms that some people report. Not every person will experience all these symptoms.
Key Symptoms of Fibromyalgia can include:
- Sensitivity to pain (even slight touch is painful)
- Cognitive difficulties – thought processes are slow, or having memory problems, lack of concentration or inability to find the right words; “brainfog”
- Stiff joints and muscles, especially upon waking
- Balance problems – vertigo, dizziness, clumsiness
- Food intolerances
- Sensitivity to heat/cold, weather changes, noises and other environmental conditions
- Sensitivity to temperature and sounds
- Digestive problems – Irritable Bowel
- Headaches or migraines
Other symptoms sometimes associated with fibromyalgia are:
- Poor Circulation: Tingling, Numbness or Swelling in the Hands and Feet.
- Headaches – normal but may include migraines
- Irritable or Feeling Miserable
- Feeling an Urgent Need to Urinate, Especially at Night
- Irritable or Uncomfortable Bowels (diarrhoea or constipation and abdominal pain) – Sometimes separately diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Symptoms vary from person to person and day to day. Symptoms often change over time and fluctuate during different periods. Some symptoms may come and go or come on for a period and then get worse again, otherwise known of as a “fluctuating condition”.
If you are concerned about any of these symptoms, please, consult your GP. These symptoms are also symptoms of other conditions and may not be caused by Fibromyalgia. For example, like arthritis, fibromyalgia causes pain and fatigue. But, unlike arthritis, Fibromyalgia does not cause redness and swelling, or damage to your joints.
Generally, fibromyalgia symptoms will affect a person’s life to some degree, and this will be different for each person. For some, they can still go about their daily lives but may have times when symptoms flare up. Others will have constant symptoms that are difficult to manage.
How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
Following tests and review of your medical history doctors will diagnose fibromyalgia based on the two following main symptoms:
- widespread pain experienced for over three consecutive months AND
- pain found in at least 11 of 18 tender points (each of these will be touched to determine this).
Your GP may carry out or refer you for testing to rule out other conditions:- to ensure you do not have arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or chronic fatigue syndrome and more. If your GP is unable to find any other underlying causes for your symptoms, they may decide upon a fibromyalgia diagnosis. This is often known of as an “exclusion diagnosis” as tests rule out other possible conditions causing the symptoms as there is no test for Fibromyalgia.
Some people find that when they present fibromyalgia symptoms to their GP, it takes some time to be diagnosed. Some report the Fibromyalgia diagnosis process is difficult. This can be because of lack of understanding of the syndrome within the medical community, e.g. GPs. Receiving a diagnosis of fibromyalgia can be hard. Fibromyalgia Friends Together aims is to be there for people, so they can talk to those in a similar position, who can give them help and support. Please contact us if we may be able to help.
Fibromyalgia may be diagnosed along with other conditions. For example, sometimes ME/CFS can be also diagnosed along with Fibromyalgia. ME/CFS has the primary symptom of post-exertional malaise which is not experienced with Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia can lead to other health conditions developing, such as mental health conditions.
What causes Fibromyalgia?
Nobody knows yet what causes Fibromyalgia. Typically, it often follows some form of stress experienced by the body. This can be from a virus, physical trauma and sometimes even emotional trauma. It is common for a stressful life event to trigger Fibromyalgia. Many with the condition report their Fibromyalgia symptoms began when they had an illness, injury, operation, bereavement, relationship breakdown, or even after having a baby.
Similarly, people report Fibromyalgia symptoms flare up due to these types of events and experiences.
Current theories suggest that fibromyalgia may be caused by a problem with nerves and pain signals due to irregular activity within the central nervous system. Since the pain experienced does not seem to be due to physical or mechanical problems in the body (e.g. a broken bone, a pulled muscle, inflammation), but instead, seems to be caused by the brain’s management of pain signals. This means for many, pain-relieving drugs do not have much effect and the pain cannot be eased. Therefore, in people with Fibromyalgia, it may be that the brain misunderstands everyday pain and other sensory experiences, making the person more sensitive to pressure, temperature (hot or cold), bright lights, and noise compared to those without Fibromyalgia.
People diagnosed with the condition may find it difficult to accept that the causes of Fibromyalgia are not yet known because people like to understand why they are experiencing these medical symptoms.
Factors That Aggravate Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia sufferers are often sensitive to odours, loud noises, bright lights, some foods, and medications.
You may also experience:
- Chest pain unrelated to the heart – known as costochondritis
- Shortness of breath
- Nasal congestion
- Painful periods
- Irritable bladder/interstitial cystitis
- Profuse sweating
- Tingling/numbness sensation
- Chemical sensitivities
- Vulvodynia (vulvar pain)
- Difficulty focusing eyes
- The feeling of swollen extremities
- Dry/burning eyes and mouth
Other situations which may make Fibromyalgia worse:
- Weather (especially cold climates and change in barometric weather)
- cold or draughty environments
- hormonal fluctuations (premenstrual and post-menstrual states)
- poor sleep
- over exertion
All may contribute to fibromyalgia flare-ups.
Please visit the NHS Fibromyalgia page for further information .
All the content within these pages has been sourced through a variety of online medical and alternative therapy information sources, and at the time of publishing we believe them to be true statements.