Fibromyalgia affects approximately 2 out of every 100 Americans with women being about 7 times more likely to suffer with it than men. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown and there is not cure for it as yet. Medication may help along with counseling but no single treatment is effective for all the symptoms. Fibroymyalgia is a chronic relapsing condition. While it is not life-threatening, some studies have suggested that it drastically increases the risk of death from suicide.
How To Spot Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome where there is widespread musculoskeletal pain with fatigue as well as sleep disturbances, anxiety or depression and mental impairment such as problems with concentration. The cause of these symptoms is usually unidentifiable and the reason why such diverse symptoms occur together has not as yet bee explained.
It is also not uncommon to see TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorders), tension headaches and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) to also be present. Due to the wide range of symptoms in fibromyalgia and the presence of other conditions, the diagnosis of fibromyalgia may sometimes be missed for a period of time. There is no specific blood test or diagnostic scan that can confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
Read more on fibromyalgia myths and facts.
Who is more likely to get fibromyalgia?
Some people are at a greater risk of developing fibroymyalgia than others. These risk factors include:
- Being female – women are at a much higher risk of developing fibromyalgia than men.
- Family history – the risk is higher if a person has one or more relatives with fibromyalgia.
- Rhemautic condition – the risk is greater is there is other rheumatic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Post traumatic stress disorder – people with PTSD are more likely to develop fibromyalgia.
It is important to note that a person with one or more of these risk factors will not definitely develop fibromyalgia. Similarly people with none of the mentioned risk factors can still devvelop the condition. While infections are often mentioned among the causes, fbromyalgia is not an infectious disease. It appears that an infection may trigger the illness and exacerbate the symptoms.
Fibromyalgia should be diagnosed by a medical professional. A host of other conditions may have to be excluded or could co-exist with fibromyalgia, such as hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), polymaylgia rheumatica, cardiac conditions and other autoimmune disorders.
The following signs and symptoms may point towards fibromyalgia:
- Do you have widespread pain above and below the waist on both sides of the body?
- Have you been experiencing the pain for 3 months or more for no obvious reason?
- Have you been feeling unusually fatigued?
- Are you waking up feeling unrefreshed?
- Does your mind feeling “foggy” or “hazy”?
- Has your ability to concentrate, think or remember been reduced?
- Are you experiencing persistent headaches that are uncharacteristic?
- Have you noticed that you are feeling anxious and/or depressed?
- Do you experience cramps or pain in the lower abdomen?
It is important to note that these symptoms may occur with a number of different medical conditions. Sometimes psychological stress and physical exertion can give rise to some of these symptoms for short periods of time. Therefore answering “yes” to one or more of these questions does not mean a diagnosis of fibroyalgia. It should prompt a person to seek further advice and an assessment from a medical professional.
Widespread Pain and Tenderness
Pain is a common symptom in many conditions but usually it is isolated to the area where the problem exists. In fibromyalgia the pain is widespread and there is usually accompanying tenderness. It is typically described as a dull ache, occurs above and below the waist and affects both sides of the body.
The widespread pain and tenderness of fibromyalgia is chronic. This means it has been present for at least 3 months. Furthermore the pain is not due to any identifiable cause, which means there is no injury, infection or some other identifiable disease process that can account for the pain.
One method of diagnosing fibromyalgia involves detecting the tenderness at 18 tender points (9 pairs) on the upper and lower body. This is known as the manual tender-point survey (MTPS). Another method known as the widespread pain index (WPI) requires a person to score the pain (from 0 to 19) on 19 different regions on the body.
Fatigue and Disturbed Sleep
Another major symptoms of fibromyalgia is fatigue. It usually correlates with disturbed sleep and the fatigue is possibly due to insufficient sleep or poor quality sleep. Even people who report sleeping for long hours find that they are unrefreshed upon waking.
While this disturbed sleep may be linked to the pain, there are sometimes other sleep disorders that co-exist with fibromyalgia. This includes restless leg syndrome (RLS) and sleep apnea. The repeated sleep disturbance has a wide range of effects on mental health which may also appear as part of fibromyalgia.
Many people with fibromyalgia also note varying degress of cognitive impairment such as poor attention span, trouble thinking and difficulty concentrating. It is believed that these cognitive symptoms are a result of the pain, disturbed sleep and fatigue interrupting normal mental processes.
Read more on brain fog.
Collectively this cognitive dysfunction is also referred to as “fibro fog” (brain fog in fibromyalgia). The term is partially adopted from the description of the mind feeling hazy or foggy as a way to express the cognitive symptoms. Memory may also be affected (usually described as being forgetful) but there is usually no memory loss.
Impaired Daily Functioning
Although not a medical sign or symptom, daily life of a person with fibromyalgia is affected to varying degrees that it is worth considering. Fibromyalgia affects a person’s job, relationships, family life, ability to complete daily tasks and even self confidence.
In studies, many people with fibromyalgia have revealed that they have experienced difficulty with child rearing and taking care of their family, completing work-related tasks and managing schedules. There were also reports about fears of losing sleep and having a baby.
It is not uncommon for the diagnosis to be delayed, sometimes even by years. As a result the impact on life may remain unexplained for long periods. During this time a person may be thought to be depressed or even abusing substances by family and friends.
Other Signs and Symptoms
Other signs, symptoms and conditions that may also be present includes:
- Lower abdominal cramps or pain