What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder and symptoms
can wax and wane for long periods of time.
As with many other pain disorders, the
symptoms of fibromyalgia vary from person to person. Symptoms can also differ
in severity from day to day. And they may vary based on certain factors, like
stress level and diet.
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain in
the muscles, joints, and tendons. This pain can be widespread throughout the
body. Many people describe it as a deep, dull ache within the muscles that gets
worse with strenuous exercise.
The pain can also be throbbing, shooting, or burning.
And it may radiate from areas of the body known as tender points, and can be
accompanied by numbness or tingling in the limbs.
Pain is often worse in frequently used
muscles like those in the hands, feet, and legs. Stiffness in these joints is
Although not the case for all people with
fibromyalgia, some report that the pain is more severe upon waking, improves
during the day, and gets worse in the evening.
Tender points are spots on the body that
become very painful even when only a small amount of pressure is applied. A
doctor will often touch these areas lightly during a physical exam. Pressure on
a tender point may also cause pain in areas of the body far away from the
There are nine pairs of tender points that
are often associated with fibromyalgia:
- both sides of the back of the head
- both sides of the neck
- top of each shoulder
- shoulder blades
- both sides of the upper chest
- outside of each elbow
- both sides of the hips
- insides of the knees
The first diagnostic criteria for
fibromyalgia, established by the American College of Rheumatology (ARC) in 1990, stated that there needed to be pain in at least 11 of
these 18 points in order to make a fibromyalgia diagnosis.
Although the tender points are still
considered to be important, their use in the diagnosis of fibromyalgia has
decreased. In May 2010, the ACR developed new criteria, acknowledging
that the diagnosis of fibromyalgia should not be based only on tender points or
the severity of the pain symptoms. It should also be based on other
Fatigue and fibro fog
Extreme fatigue and exhaustion are common symptoms
of fibromyalgia. Some people also experience “fibro fog,” a condition that may
include difficulty concentrating, remembering information, or following
conversations. Fibro fog and fatigue can make work and everyday activities
People with fibromyalgia often
have difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, or reaching the
deepest and most beneficial stages of sleep. This can be due to pain that wakes
people repeatedly throughout the night.
A sleep disorder like sleep apnea or restless
leg syndrome could also be to blame. Both of these conditions are associated
Psychological symptoms are common since
fibromyalgia may be related to imbalances in brain chemistry. These symptoms
can also be caused by abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters and even
from stress from coping with the disorder.
Psychological symptoms include:
- post-traumatic stress disorder
People often use support groups to get help
with these symptoms.
There are several other conditions that are
more common among people with fibromyalgia than in the general population.
Having these other conditions only increases the number of symptoms someone
with fibromyalgia may have. These include:
- tension and migraine headaches
- irritable bowel syndrome
- restless legs syndrome
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- rheumatoid arthritis