Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition causing sufferers to experience moderate to intense pain throughout the body in various forms. Fibromyalgia pain can be perceived as an overall increased pain response of the human body to various stimuli such as pressure or temperature and can take the form of digestive sensitivity such as inflammation or irritation, muscle spasms, soreness and weakness, headaches, bone pain, difficulty falling and remaining asleep, memory problems, difficulty focusing, fatigue, twitching and numbness and a variety of other pains and aches. In other words, fibromyalgia designates a sort of nonspecific pain syndrome or pain disorder.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic medical disorder, meaning it is characterized by continuity and severity. Even if symptoms may subside for a while, they are very likely to recur with the same severity. The causes for fibromyalgia are unknown, although it has been theorized that stress, trauma, genetics, autoimmune disorders, infections, diet and lifestyle represent the main risk factors and triggers. Since the cause of the condition has not been identified, no real treatment for it exists. Paliative care, pain management, a good diet, lifestyle changes, a positive mindset, keeping physically active can help improve some of the symptoms and contribute to improving the quality of one’s life.
What is fibromyalgia? In simple words, fibromyalgia refers to experiencing various forms of persistent tenderness, aches and pains throughout the body without an identifiable physiological cause. Fibromyalgia is chronic, meaning it does not go away. Symptoms are severe enough to urge sufferers to see a doctor, but cannot be diagnosed with medical tests. The condition is diagnosed by excluding known disorders and diseases that correspond to the symptoms sufferers experience and report.
How long does fibromyalgia last? At present, fibromyalgia is recognized as a long-term (chronic) condition, meaning it will last indefinitely once it starts. While it is not fatal, it can be debilitating because of the pain.
What causes fibromyalgia?
Officially, there are no known causes for the condition. However, medical professionals believe certain factors may contribute to the onset of the condition. These include:
1) Physical trauma and disease. Car accidents, workplace accidents, various injuries, hard manual labor, surgery or anything that may prove physically traumatic for a person can represent a starting point for the development of the condition. Actually, some experts believe that people that have had multiple surgeries throughout their lifetime or already suffer from chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to develop fibromyalgia. This would mean there is a causative relationship between poor physical health and fibromyalgia risks. It is thus possible that people already in ill health are the most likely to develop fibromyalgia.
2) Stress. Emotional trauma brought on by extremely stressful events such as the death of a loved one, childbirth, major surgery, relationship problems, divorce, custody battles, unemployment, continual stress at the workplace, depression etc. may result in nonspecific pain and aches throughout the body, potentially marking the beginning of fibromyalgia.
3) Infection. It has been proposed that infections may have a connection with fibromyalgia. It is possible that a severe infection can result in ill physical health, which might somehow put us at risk of developing fibromyalgia (the infection might have affected the nerves, muscles, brain). If an infection is so severe that it is emotionally exhausting (being constantly subjected to medical tests, spending a lot of time in hospitals, difficult recovery, potential long-term health problems as a result of it, medication side effects), the stress of it might alter the way our brain responds to pain stimuli and trigger symptoms.
4) Genetics. Researchers believe it is possible for certain genes to make some people more sensitive to pain than others, which would mean they have a higher risk for fibromyalgia.
5) Hormones. Studies have observed that women are more likely to suffer from fibromyalgia. Considering the great majority of sufferers report an increase in symptoms mid-life, which is when women end their reproductive phase and extensive hormonal changes take place, the condition might have a hormonal cause. Stress is a hormone-regulated reaction of the body as well and the role it plays in accentuating symptoms severity in fibromyalgia sufferers may also be indicative of the hormonal nature of the condition.
6) Central nervous system problems. Some experts believe the reason why fibromyalgia occurs is because the central nervous system of sufferers may perceive pain differently, resulting in a more heightened response to pain stimuli. A problem somewhere in the brain or in the way nerves communicate information to the rest of the body may readjust our sensory (physical) perception so that we feel more pain.
7) Depression. Fibromyalgia might also be a result of a heightened emotional response to pain. We can feel pain both physically (sensory experience) and emotionally (affective experience). Moreover, depression is characterized by an amplified experience of negative thoughts and emotions, pain included. A chemical imbalance in the brain (such as in depression) might make us more emotionally responsive to pain, which would also translate into feeling more pain.
8) Disturbed sleep. Our sleep is regulated by hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. Stress can affect neurotransmitters and the endocrine system, meaning a person having sleep problems such as difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep, restless sleep etc. is more likely to exhibit fibromyalgia symptoms.
9) Lifestyle. Working in a stressful environment, choosing various leisure activities over sleep, taking on too many responsibilities at work, at school or at home, sleep deprivation are some lifestyle factors that might influence our fibromyalgya risks.
10) Hot and humid environments. High temperatures combined with high humidity are more likely to amplify various types of pain, especially musculoskeletal pain typical of fibromyalgia. Paying attention to environmental conditions is a good way of minimizing symptoms.
Frequently asked questions
How and when does fibromyalgia start? The condition starts with experiencing various aches and pains throughout the body for no apparent reason. Pain, tenderness and other symptoms may come and go and may not necessarily leave a big impression in the beginning. Most sufferers are diagnosed mid-life, but symptoms often start to appear as early as the age of 20.
How does fibromyalgia progress? The condition starts as mild symptoms of pain in various parts of the body or an overall increased response to pain stimuli. This is the acute phase when pains and aches come and go and last several days or around a week. Symptoms become chronic (continual, medium to severe intensity) and ultimately require pain management therapies.
How much does fibromyalgia hurt? The extent of the pain caused by fibromyalgia may vary greatly from person to person and differ depending on the type of pain. While it usually starts off as mild, apparently occasional aches here and there, as it progresses, the continuity of pain or its severity might require pain medication (for muscle pain or headaches), giving up certain physically-demanding activities, having to resort to massage, chiropractic treatment or infrared lamp therapy and other pain management therapies to help relieve symptoms. Pain is unpredictable and its intensity may vary.
Signs and symptoms
What does fibromyalgia look like? Sufferers report a wide variety of symptoms, all which have continual, widespread, moderate to intense pain in common. So when you hurt in different places, but there is no real cause for it, yet it continues to hurt, then you might have fibromyalgia. Generally, experiencing several of the following signs and symptoms can be considered as part of the fibromyalgia range of symptoms:
1) Insomnia: inability to fall or remain asleep, restless sleep, restless legs syndrome, pain.
2) Increased sensitivity to pain (especially pressure).
3) Headaches, dizziness (as a result of the pain), nausea.
4) Muscle and nerve pain and dull aches (such as jaw pain).
5) Muscle weakness and decreased strength.
6) Muscle cramps (especially at night).
7) Twitching, tingling and numbness in arms and legs.
8) Tremors, fasciculations.
9) Joint stiffness when waking up in the morning.
10) Sensitivity to hot and cold, bright lights, noise.
12) Abdominal cramps and pain.
13) Irritable bowel symptoms (pain, bloating, difficult digestion).
14) Brain fog: inability to focus, memory problems etc.
15) Neck, shoulders, back and thigh pain.
16) Anxiety and depression manifestations.
18) Bladder problems.
Where does it hurt? Any part of the body, function or aspect of life may be affected by fibromyalgia. The head, back, joints, stomach, legs, muscle strength, nerve function, focus, memory, overall cognitive performance and even mindset can suffer the side effects of the condition. For pain to be considered as a symptom of fibromyalgia, it has to be widespread, affecting extensive parts of the body.
Virtually any form of pain-management can help improve fibromyalgia and its symptoms. Analgesics, heat pads, massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, infrared lamp therapy, hot showers, bed rest combined with moderate activity (walking, Pilates), chiropractic treatment, taking magnesium, potassium and B vitamins for nerve and muscle health as well as other dietary supplements, sleeping enough, eliminating stress factors, drinking herbal teas, eating well and avoiding intense physical activity can all help ease pain, improve muscle, nerve function, mood and mindset.