Often misdiagnosed and misunderstood, fibromyalgia is a common condition. People with this condition experience widespread muscle and joint pain as well as intense fatigue. While there isn’t a cure, there are treatment options, lifestyle changes and coping techniques that can help you manage pain. Anyone can develop this chronic condition. It causes many common symptoms. Fibromyalgia affects people differently. But just what is fibromyalgia? And could the pain you’re experiencing be related to this condition? We’ve got the answers you need to help relieve your pain below.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness as well as muscle and joint pain. It also causes fatigue, among various other symptoms. These symptoms can be severe. They may make it very difficult to stay active or to even function from day to day. Doctors aren’t sure what causes this condition. However, some think that it might be caused by a problem with how the brain and spinal cord process pain signals from nerves. It’s estimated that 3-6% percent of people across the globe live with fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia doesn’t fall under the category of rheumatic diseases, or diseases that cause inflammation or damage to your joints, tissue or muscles. Its common symptoms are close to that of arthritis though, so you might be referred to see a rheumatologist to help you develop an effective treatment plan.
What causes fibromyalgia?
Medical experts do not fully understand fibromyalgia or its exact causes yet. They do know that people with fibromyalgia experience amplified pain because of an abnormality in how their central nervous system processes pain. They also believe that genetic factors may leave an individual more likely to develop fibromyalgia.
Some people experience a slow, gradual onset of fibromyalgia symptoms. The majority of people with fibromyalgia seem to develop the condition after it is triggered by an illness or injury that causes some sort of bodily trauma. It’s possible that such a trauma aggravates an existing physiological problem that the individual wasn’t aware of previously.
Risk factors of fibromyalgia include:
- Your age: While it can affect people of all ages, including children, you are more likely to develop fibromyalgia as you get older
- Having lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Your sex: Women are twice as likely to have fibromyalgia as men
- Experiencing traumatic events such as car accidents or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Enduring repetitive injuries that put stress on one of your joints
- Experiencing illness (such as viral infections)
- Having a family history of the condition
- Being obese
More research is needed to fully understand its causes and potential improved management methods.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Everyone is different and may experience a variety of symptoms. However, fibromyalgia has several common symptoms including:
- Widespread muscle and joint pain
- Sleep problems
- Low pain threshold
- Memory and mood issues
- Chronic headaches
- Jaw pain
- Trouble concentrating or remembering (fibro fog)
While not as common, there are other possible symptoms of fibromyalgia, which may include:
- Belly pain, bloating or indigestion
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle weakness
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Tingling or numbness sensations in your hands and feet
- Sensitivity to cold, heat, light, sound or strong smells
Having fibromyalgia has been compared to having the flu. The symptoms may fluctuate throughout the day. They may also flare up when aggravated. Factors such as weather changes, high stress levels, cold environments and overexertion can all cause flareups. Even without these aggravating factors, fibromyalgia symptoms can be unpredictable, making it difficult for people living with fibromyalgia to make plans.
Many symptoms of fibromyalgia can be symptoms of other conditions. In fact, fibromyalgia symptoms may mimic Raynaud’s Syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), restless leg syndrome (RLS) and more. This makes fibromyalgia particularly challenging to diagnose. If you have any of these symptoms, it’s best to see your doctor to discuss them.