Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread body pain. It is much more common in women, although it may affect men also though more infrequently. The cause is unknown, but it may be related to abnormal brain chemistry and changes to the way the central nervous system processes pain. There may also be a genetic component as fibromyalgia may run in families. Apart from genetics, risk factors for fibromyalgia include other disorders of the joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles, for example rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus and ankylosing spondylitis. Trauma and abuse or other prolonged periods of stress may also predispose a person to developing fibromyalgia. Similarly, sleep disorders and mood disorders are also associated with the development of this painful condition.
Read more about Fibromyalgia warnings signs on the next page.
Persons with fibromyalgia may experience muscular pain, burning, twitching or tightness. This can affect muscles in any part of the body and may be accompanied by weakness. Regular mild exercise and stretching can help to reduce this symptom and maintain functionality.
If you have fibromyalgia, you may experience increased sensitivity and pain from stimuli that aren’t normally painful. Tender points are often located around joints, but not in the joints themselves and cause a disproportionate amount of pain when they are pressed. There are 18 specific spots that are often tender in people with fibromyalgia, and prior to 2010 at least 11 of these had to be tender in order for a diagnosis of fibromyalgia to be made. However, the diagnostic criteria has since changed, but identifying tender points can still be useful for making a diagnosis.
Approximately 76% of people with fibromyalgia experience fatigue that is not relieved by sleep or rest. This is different from merely being tired, and has major consequences for a person’s ability to carry out their activities of daily living. It is not known exactly how fibromyalgia causes fatigue, but it may be as a result of the body constantly having to cope with pain which may drain the body’s reserves, leaving the sufferer exhausted.
Also known as “fibro fog”, brain fog refers to the cognitive difficulties that may accompany fibromyalgia. Although it can manifest in different ways, patients commonly experience short term memory loss, being easily distractible, difficulty carrying on conversations and an inability to remember new information. Like fatigue, this symptom may be related to chronic pain and poor sleep.
Poor sleep or insomnia
Three quarters of fibromyalgia sufferers complain of poor sleep or insomnia. Fibromyalgia sufferers experience less deep sleep, increased lighter stages of sleep, and wake up more frequently during the night. They also have difficulty falling asleep and awaken too early in the morning. In a vicious cycle, lack of sleep contributes to more pain, and more pain makes falling asleep difficult. Treatment options include cognitive behavior therapy and practicing good sleep hygiene, which should help to improve not just insomnia but all the symptoms of fibromyalgia as many of them are caused or exacerbated by inadequate sleep.
Anxiety and/or depression
Like sleep difficulties, anxiety and depression and fibromyalgia symptoms feed into each other in a vicious cycle. Living with chronic pain can cause anxiety and depression, and anxiety and depression can worsen the perception of the pain. These mood disorders can also prevent patients from taking the steps necessary to alleviate their symptoms, such as exercise, physical therapy and healthy dietary choices, causing them to suffer even more than necessary.
Irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia frequently co-occur, although how they are related is not understood. Both conditions involve increased brain activity in the areas that process pain, and both disorders are related to having a hyperactive nervous system.
Many fibromyalgia patients experience a persistent urge to urinate and have to wake up many times at night to do so. This is yet another factor that can contribute to poor sleep. The precise cause of frequent urination in fibromyalgia patients is not certain, but may be related to problems with the muscles and nerves responsible for holding and releasing urine. This symptom may be alleviated by lifestyle changes (limiting fluid intake), pelvic floor exercises and bladder training.
More than 50% of people with fibromyalgia experience frequent headaches. This may be as a result of increased excitation of the nervous system, leading to sensitization and overreaction to stimuli that should not be painful. The frequency and severity of these headaches may be reduced by stress reduction, exercise, avoidance of headache triggers, dietary changes and acupuncture
Odd sensations on the skin
People with fibromyalgia may experience creeping or crawling sensations on the skin as well as numbness or tingling in the face, hands, feet, arms or legs. Some people get relief from physical therapy, vitamin supplements, massage or acupuncture.
Sensitivity to cold, heat, light or sound
Due to nervous system hypersensitivity, people with fibromyalgia easily experience sensory overload and experience extreme discomfort or pain from changes in stimuli that would not affect a healthy person.