Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder, and its symptoms are present consistently for a long period of time. The symptoms of fibromyalgia wax and wane over time. You may have good days when symptoms are less severe, and bad days when they are worse.
As with many other pain disorders, the symptoms of fibromyalgia vary from person to person. They also differ in severity from day to day and may vary based on certain factors, such as stress level and diet.
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain in the muscles, joints, and tendons. This pain is widespread throughout the body. Many sufferers describe the pain as a deep, dull ache within the muscles that gets worse with strenuous exercise. It can also be throbbing, shooting, or burning pain. It may radiate from tender points and can be accompanied by numbness or tingling in the limbs.
Pain is often worse in frequently used muscles like those in the hands, feet, and legs. Stiffness in these joints is also common. Some people report that pain is worse upon waking, improves during the day, and gets worse again in the evening. This is not the case for all sufferers.
Tender points are spots on the body that become very painful when only a small amount of pressure is applied. A doctor will often touch these areas lightly during the physical examination. 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 needed in order to make a fibromyalgia diagnosis. However, the ACR updated the process in May 2010. Although the tender points are still considered symptoms of fibromyalgia their use in diagnosis has decreased.
Extreme fatigue and exhaustion are common with this pain syndrome. Patients also experience “fibro fog,” a condition that may include difficulty concentrating, remembering information, or following conversations. “Fibro fog” and fatigue can make work and everyday activities difficult.
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. A sleep disorder like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome could also be to blame. Both of these are associated with the syndrome.
Psychological issues are common in addition to pain since fibromyalgia may be related to imbalances in brain chemistry. These can also be caused by abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitter chemicals and even from the discouragement of coping with the disorder. They include depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients often use support groups to get help with these symptoms.
There are several other diseases and conditions that are more common among fibromyalgia sufferers than the general population. They only increase the number of symptoms a person will have. These include:
- tension and migraine headaches
- irritable bowel syndrome
- restless leg syndrome
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- rheumatoid arthritis