Fibromyalgia comes from the Greek words “myos”, meaning muscle, “algos”, meaning pain, and from the New Latin word “fibro”, meaning fibrous tissue.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder or syndrome which is characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain (pain in the muscles and joints). This pain is also accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that Fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.
The pain appears to result from processes in the central nervous system and the condition is referred to as a “central sensitization syndrome”. Fibromyalgia is classed as a disorder of pain processing due to abnormalities in the way the pain signals are processed in the central nervous system (CNS).
There is no cure for Fibromyalgia.
While the exact cause of Fibromyalgia is unknown, doctors believe that the following are possible causes:-
- Physical Trauma
- Significant psychological stress
- Physical & Sexual abuse in both childhood and adulthood
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Central nervous system problems
- No single triggering event. Symptoms gradually build up over time.
Researchers believe that repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains in Fibromyalgia patients to change. This involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters). The brains pain receptors develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, and overreact to pain signals. The volume of neurons is set too high and this hyper-excitability of pain processing pathways and under-activity of inhibitory pain pathways in the brain results in the person experiencing pain. Some neurochemical abnormalities in Fibromyalgia also regulate mood, sleep, and energy explaining why mood, sleep and fatigue problems are commonly co-morbid with Fibromyalgia.
The main symptoms of Fibromyalgia are:-
- Chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain. This pain is often described as a constant dull ache. It must be present for more than 3 months and be on both side of the body, above and below the waist. The muscles feel overworked or pulled without exercise or other cause. The muscles may burn, twitch or feel like a deep stabbing pain. Pain in the joints of the neck, shoulder, back and hips.
- Heightened pain in response to tactile pressure (allodynia)
- Incapacitating fatigue
- Sleep issues. Other sleep disorders such as Restless Leg Syndrome and Sleep Apnea are commonly found in Fibromyalgia patients.
- Cognitive difficulties known as “fibro fog”. This is basically impaired concentration, problems with short and long-term memory, short-term memory consolidation, impaired speed of performance, inability to multi-task, cognitive overload, and diminished attention span.
- Chronic headaches
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Abdominal Pain
- Dryness in mouth, nose and eyes
Other symptoms include the following:-
- Hypersensitivity to cold, heat, noise and/or light
- Numbness or tingling in the fingers and feet
- Stiffness in the morning
- Tingling of the skin (paresthesia)
- Prolonged muscle spasms
- Weakness in limbs
- Nerve pain
- Problems with vision
- Weight gain
- Cold / Flu like symptoms
- Chest pain
- Myofascial Pain Syndrome (Chronic Myofascial Pain)
- Interstitial Cystitis
- Dermatological Disorders
- Myoclonic Twitches
- Symptomatic Hypoglycemia
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Pelvic pain
- Irritable / Overactive Bladder
- Genitourinary Symptoms
This is not a complete list of symptoms and there are many other symptoms that can accompany Fibromyalgia. These symptoms also vary in degree of severity.
The pain and lack of sleep can severely interfere with your ability to function at home and in your job. The frustration of dealing with this condition often results in depression and health related anxiety. Social isolation is another major problem.
Tests & Diagnosis
A doctor diagnoses Fibromyalgia based on the diagnostic criteria for Fibromyalgia outlined by the American College of Rheumatology. This includes widespread pain which must be present for more than 3 months, must be on both the left and right hand side of the body, above and below the waist, chest, neck and mid or lower back. The focus is more on symptoms than on tender points which were formerly used. Your doctor may do blood tests to rule out any other serious illnesses.
Treatment for Fibromyalgia includes medication, therapy, exercise, relaxation and stress reduction. Alternative treatments like acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga and tai chi are also used.