Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder, which means that its symptoms are present consistently for a long period of time. If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you may have good days when symptoms are less severe and bad days when they are worse. But the symptoms typically do not go away completely and then reappear as is the case with some other diseases.
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain in the muscles, joints, and tendons that is widespread throughout the body. Many sufferers describe this pain as a deep ache within the muscles that gets worse with strenuous exercise. It can manifest itself as throbbing, shooting, or burning pain. It may radiate from tender points (see below), and it can be accompanied by numbness or tingling in the limbs. This pain is often worse in muscles that are used frequently, such as the hands, feet, and legs and may also be accompanied by stiffness in the joints. Some patients report that pain is worst upon waking, improves during the day, and gets worse again in the evening, though this is not the case for all fibromyalgia sufferers.
Read about other causes of muscle pain.
Tender points are spots on the body that become very painful when only a small amount of pressure, such as pressing with a fingertip, is applied. Pressure on a tender point may also cause pain in areas of the body far away from the tender point itself. There are nine pairs of tender points that are often associated with fibromyalgia:
- both sides of the back of the head
- both sides of the neck
- top of each shoulder
- shoulder blades
- both sides of the upper chest
- outside of each elbow
- both sides of the hips
- insides of the knees
The first diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia, established by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) in 1990, stated that pain in at least 11 of these 18 points was required for a fibromyalgia diagnosis. However, the ACR upated the diagnostic process and the criteria involved in May 2010. Although the tender points are still considered characteristics of fibromyalgia, their signifcance in the diagnosing the condition has decreased.
Fatigue / Fibro Fog
Extreme feelings of tiredness or exhaustion are common in fibromyalgia. Patients also experience what is called “fibro fog,” a condition that may include difficulty concentrating, remembering information, or following conversations and can make work or other everyday activities difficult.
Read about other causes of tiredness.
Fibromyalgia patients often have difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, or reaching the deepest and most beneficial stages of sleep. This can be due to pain that wakes sufferers repeatedly throughout the night or a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, both of which are associated with fibromyalgia.
Learn about other causes of difficulty sleeping.
Because fibromyalgia is likely related to imbalances in brain chemistry, psychological issues are common symptoms in addition to pain. These can also be caused by abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitter chemicals, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are several other diseases and conditions that are more common among fibromyalgia sufferers than the general population. These include:
- Tension and migraine headaches
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Restless legs syndrome
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Rheumatoid Arthritis