Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal disorder characterized by chronic pain and tenderness. People who have fibromyalgia have pain or tender points in the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs, as well as in other parts of the body.
Many experts believe that a miscommunication between the body and the brain causes this pain. In people with fibromyalgia, brain chemicals read neutral sensations as stronger than they are, causing a sensation of pain where there shouldn’t be one. Pain receptors in the brain then become overly sensitive, overreacting to nerve or pain sensations repeatedly.
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but symptoms may begin after surgery, infection, or other physical trauma. Other people develop symptoms after psychological trauma. Not all people with fibromyalgia can pinpoint the event or situation that triggers the symptoms.
Women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia. It also is known to run in families, or have a genetic component.
The primary symptom of fibromyalgia is pain throughout the body. This dull ache can last for months. To be characterized as fibromyalgia, the ache has to be widespread, meaning it occurs on both sides of the body and isn’t localized to one part of the body. The pain of the disorder can have a deep impact on quality of life, leading to trouble sleeping, chronic tiredness or fatigue, and inability to concentrate.
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- sleep troubles like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome
- problems with mood, such as depression
- muscle stiffness
- muscle weakness or balance issues
- stiff or achy joints
- numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- sensitivity to light, sound or temperature
- memory troubles
- inability to focus or concentrate
- general foggy feeling, called “fibro fog”
- inability to function in daily life
- headaches (often tension headaches or migraines)
- pain in the abdomen or pelvis
- irritable bowel syndrome
- temporomandibular joint issues (TMJ)
- overactive bladder
- painful menstrual periods
The complexity of fibromyalgia makes it a frequently misunderstood condition. Because the symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, making a diagnosis often takes many doctor visits and consultations. There are no specific tests to diagnose fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia does not currently have a cure. The key is to control the disorder. This can be done with medication and lifestyle changes. Getting adequate exercise, learning to control stress, and practicing relaxation techniques may be helpful in controlling and minimizing fibromyalgia symptoms.