Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread pain all over the body. People with this syndrome develop sleep problems and cognitive issues, which can wear down their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Left undiagnosed, the disorder can cause a variety of health issues. If you are concerned that yourself or a loved one might have fibromyalgia, you’ll want to get familiar with the signs and symptoms.
How It Begins
Genetics can play a significant role at the onset, as the disorder tends to run in families. Females are far more likely to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia than men.
Symptoms are often triggered by a physical or psychological event, such as surgery, infection, physical trauma, or mental distress. 1 People who have post-traumatic stress disorder are at a greater risk of developing this syndrome.
Individuals who have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to contract fibromyalgia. Likewise, those who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome or irritable bowel syndrome are at a higher risk. In fact, these conditions often disguise the early symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Pain and Stiffness
The chief characteristics of fibromyalgia are pain and stiffness all over the body. The sensations can range from a dull ache to an excruciating pain. In order to fit the criteria for a diagnosis, this discomfort must be constant both above and below the waist. The pain is described as muscular, and often intensifies around the face and jaw.
Researchers believe that fibromyalgia sufferers have a hypersensitivity to pain, as brain imaging studies reveal altered signaling in the neural pathways of pain transmitters. 2 This unique neural configuration might also be responsible for the next symptoms we’ll discuss.
Fatigue and “The Fibro Fog”
Many people who wind up being diagnosed with fibromyalgia turn to their doctor with complaints about pervasive fatigue and sleep disturbances. Being overly tired throughout the day, yet unable to catch up on sleep at night, is a problematic combination that can reduce one’s quality of life.
Cognitive issues (such as poor concentration, thinking and memory issues) can also be trademark indicators of fibromyalgia – a state of mind that sufferers call “the fibro fog”. Brain scans have indicated that this “fog” is actually a deficit of executive functioning skills, which impact decision making and planning skills. 3 Forgetfulness, misspeaking, and confusion can be common.
Migraines and Moods
People living with fibromyalgia deal with the common symptoms of tension headaches and migraines. These headaches are so similar to migraine disease that a 2018 study revealed that 36.2% of migraine patients met the criteria to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia as well. 4
Depression and anxiety can also be symptoms of fibromyalgia. If chronic pain and fatigue prevents sufferers from engaging in regular exercise and social activities, isolation can set in. People report being especially depressed and anxious during a flare-up, which we’ll discuss next.
A flare-up of fibromyalgia is an intense wave of symptoms which can last days or weeks. While its heightened effects are temporary, these instances can seriously disrupt a person’s personal and professional life.
Flare-ups can be caused by a number of triggers, ranging from subtle (weather changes) to significant (grief, giving birth). 5 Unfortunately, many of the symptoms during these flare-ups are the same ones that triggered the syndrome in the first place, and might include stress, poor sleep, illness, and hormonal changes.
Symptoms Are Treatable
Although there is no tried-and-true method of preventing fibromyalgia, there are many ways to treat the symptoms.
Pain relievers and antidepressants can help alleviate the physical and mental toll. Some drugs, which were designed to treat epilepsy, have been known to target specific types of pain that can be brought on by the disorder 6.
Therapists and counselors are also trained to help people navigate the condition. A physical therapist can teach exercises that give sufferers more command over their symptoms, while occupational therapists can modify the physical demands of a patient’s workplace.
Talk To Your Doctor
If you have more questions about fibromyalgia, it’s best to speak with your doctor. Although the condition cannot be diagnosed with the certainty of a blood test, medical professionals can pinpoint the condition by ruling out other ailments that have similar symptoms.
There are also a number of forums and communities online, which can offer insights and tips about the syndrome.