Fibromyalgia is a long-term (chronic) condition that can cause widespread pain and tenderness over much of the body. It’s quite common, up to 1 person in every 25 may be affected.
It is thought to be more common than statistics report, since many people do not seek medical help, or are misdiagnosed. There may be around 1.5 to 2 million people in the UK with Fibromyalgia. For more information on the condition visit the Fibromyalgia Action UK website. 5th February 2019 https://www.nrshealthcare.co.uk/articles/condition/firomyalgia
How Do the Numbers Differ Between Men and Women?
Fibromyalgia syndrome is more common in woman than in men – according to the National Fibromyalgia Association, 75-90% of people with fibromyalgia syndrome are women.
How Do the Numbers Differ with Age?
Symptoms of fibromyalgia syndrome usually start somewhere between 20 and 55 years old. As the disease is lifelong, by the age of 80, about 8% of people can be classified as having fibromyalgia syndrome, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association.
In the past, other terms were used to describe the condition, including muscular rheumatism and fibrositis. The condition may even have been misdiagnosed as degenerative joint disease.
We now know that fibromyalgia isn’t linked to inflammatory or degenerative arthritis, even though the symptoms may sometimes be very similar.
Fibromyalgia doesn’t cause any lasting damage to the body’s tissues. However, it’s important to keep as active as you can in order to avoid weakening of the muscles (deconditioning) which could to secondary problems.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is also called fibromyalgia syndrome. A syndrome is a group of symptoms that happen together. People with fibromyalgia experience aches and pain all over the body, fatigue (extreme tiredness that does not get better with sleep or rest), and problems sleeping.
Fibromyalgia may be caused by a problem in the brain with nerves and pain signals. In other words, in people with fibromyalgia, the brain misunderstands everyday pain and other sensory experiences, making the person more sensitive to pressure, temperature (hot or cold), bright lights, and noise compared to people who do not have fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia has been compared to arthritis. Like arthritis, fibromyalgia causes pain and fatigue. But, unlike arthritis, fibromyalgia does not cause redness and swelling, or damage to your joints.
The Main Symptoms of Fibromyalgia are:
- Widespread Pain
- Extreme Tiredness (Fatigue)
- Sleep Disturbance
The effects of these symptoms vary from person to person and from day to day. Many people have flare-ups from time to time when their symptoms become suddenly worse.
People with fibromyalgia often say that fatigue is the worst part of the condition and that they can’t seem to think clearly or remember things properly (this is sometimes called “fibrofog” or “brainfog”).
The pain may feel as though it affects your whole body, or it may be particularly bad in just a few areas. Some people find that their pain feels worse in very hot, cold or damp weather.
Less Common Symptoms of Fibromyalgia are:
- Poor Circulation: Tingling, Numbness or Swelling in the Hands and Feet.
- Irritable or Feeling Miserable
- Feeling an Urgent Need to Urinate, Especially at Night
- Irritable or Uncomfortable Bowels (Diarrhea or Constipation and Abdominal Pain) Sometimes Separately Diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Nobody knows for sure yet what causes fibromyalgia. Current theories suggest that fibromyalgia may be caused by irregular activity within the central nervous system. This is because the pain it causes does not seem to be a result of physical or mechanical problem in the body (e.g. a broken bone, a pulled muscle, inflammation) but instead, seems to be caused by the brain’s management of pain signals. This means that for many people, pain relieving drugs do not have much effect for them and the pain cannot be healed.
People with the condition may find it difficult to accept that the causes of fibromyalgia are not yet confirmed. Generally, people like to understand why they are experiencing a healthcare condition. Some people report that the fibromyalgia diagnosis process is also difficult and takes a long time, because there is a lack of understanding of the syndrome in the medical community for example, GP’s.
It is common for a stressful life event to be what triggers fibromyalgia. Lots of people who have the condition report that their fibromyalgia symptoms began when they had an illness, injury, operation, bereavement, relationship breakdown (e.g. divorce), or even after having a baby. Similarly, people report that their fibromyalgia symptoms flare up due to these types of events and experiences.
When speaking of symptoms of fibromyalgia, it is important not to generalize because whilst a few symptoms are common amongst people with the condition, everyone will experience it differently. Here, we cover key symptoms that many people with the condition will experience, and a host of other symptoms that some people report. Fibromyalgia can lead to other health conditions developing, and we discuss these here also. Not every person will experience all these symptoms.
Generally, fibromyalgia symptoms will affect a person’s life to some degree, and this will be different for each person with the condition. Some people will find they can still go about their daily life but may have times when fibromyalgia flares up. Others will have constant symptoms that are difficult to manage.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia Include:
- Pain all around the body, which may feel like burning, stabbing or shooting pain
- Sensitivity to pain (feeling that even slight touch is painful)
- Fatigue (exhaustion, excessive/unexplained tiredness)
- Cognitive difficulties e.g. feeling like thought processes are slow, or having memory problems
- Sleep issues i.e. non-restorative sleep (being unable to progress into a state of deep sleep)
- Stiff joints and muscles
- Balance problems i.e. vertigo, dizziness
- Food Intolerances
- Sensitivity to heat/cold
- Mood swings, anxiety, depression or other mental health problems
- Digestive problems e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Headaches or migraines
People report that their symptoms change over time and fluctuate during different periods. Some symptoms may come and go or come on for a period and then get better before another symptom occurs. It is important to learn what triggers fibromyalgia symptoms for you.
If you are concerned about any of the symptoms you read here, consult your GP. These symptoms are often symptoms of other conditions and may not be caused by fibromyalgia.
Some people find that when they present fibromyalgia symptoms to their GP, it takes some time to be diagnosed. Many people are misdiagnosed, because fibromyalgia is not well understood, being only labelled in the 1990’s.
Even if a GP suspects the cause may be fibromyalgia, there is no test for the condition. Blood tests, scans and so on cannot prove the condition is present. Your GP may carry out or refer you for testing though, to rule out other conditions first, for example, they may want to ensure you do not have arthritis, multiple sclerosis or chronic fatigue syndrome.
If your GP is unable to find any other reasons that could be the cause of your symptoms, they may decide upon a fibromyalgia diagnosis.
Receiving a diagnosis of fibromyalgia can be difficult to take in. It can help to talk to other people in a similar situation, or those who are living with the condition. As a group this is one of our main aim’s to be there for people, so they can talk to someone in a similar position where they can give them help and support, we are always there to help. To find out first-hand what you may have to deal with. Read our Support for Fibromyalgia page for details about online communities that may help
Factors That Aggravate Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia sufferers are often sensitive to odours, loud noises, bright lights, some foods and prescribed medications. You may also experience
Chest pain unrelated to the heart
Shortness of breath
Irritable bladder/interstitial cystitis
Vulvodynia (vulvar pain)
Difficulty focusing eyes
The feeling of swollen extremities
Dry/burning eyes and mouth
Other situations which make Fibromyalgia worse.
Weather (especially cold climates and change in barometric weather), cold or draughty environments, hormonal fluctuations (premenstrual and post menstrual states), poor quality sleep, stress, depression, anxiety and over exertion can all contribute to fibromyalgia flare ups.
If you suffer from structural misalignment or joint problems such as arthritis a lot of strain is placed on surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments. Over worked muscles can rebel by developing tiny little knots or nodules that limit muscle elasticity. These tiny knots or nodules are called myofascial trigger points.
All the content within these pages has been sourced through a variety of online medical and alternative therapy information sources, and at the time of publishing we believe them to be true statements.