Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points or places on the body where slight pressure causes pain. If someone feels hurt all over, and frequently feels exhausted. Even after numerous tests, the doctor can't find anything specifically wrong with the reports. If this sounds familiar, he or she may have Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is more common in women than in men. Previously, fibromyalgia was known by other names such as fibrositis, chronic muscle pain syndrome, psychogenic rheumatism and tension myalgias. Although the intensity of the symptoms may vary, they'll probably never disappear completely. It may be reassuring to know, however, that fibromyalgia isn't progressive or life-threatening. Treatments and self-care steps can improve fibromyalgia symptoms and our general health. Signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia can vary, depending on the weather, stress, physical activity or even the time of day.
Common signs and symptoms include:
Other common signs and symptoms include:
- Widespread pain. Fibromyalgia is characterized by pain in specific areas of the body when pressure is applied, including the back of the head, upper back and neck, upper chest, elbows, hips and knees. The pain generally persists for months at a time and is often accompanied by stiffness.
- Fatigue and sleep disturbances. People with fibromyalgia often wake up tired and unrefreshed even though they seem to get plenty of sleep. Some studies suggest that this sleep problem is the result of a sleep disorder called alpha wave interrupted sleep pattern, a condition in which deep sleep is frequently interrupted by bursts of brain activity similar to wakefulness. So people with fibromyalgia miss the deep restorative stage of sleep. Nighttime muscle spasms in legs and restless legs syndrome also may be associated with fibromyalgia.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating associated with IBS are common in people with fibromyalgia.
- Headaches and facial pain. Many people who have fibromyalgia also have headaches and facial pain that may be related to tenderness or stiffness in their neck and shoulders. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, which affects the jaw joints and surrounding muscles, also is common in people with fibromyalgia.
- Heightened sensitivity. It's common for people with fibromyalgia to report being sensitive to odors, noises, bright lights and touch.
- Numbness or tingling sensations in the hands and feet (paresthesia)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood changes
- Chest pain
- Dry eyes, skin and mouth
- Painful menstrual periods
Doctors don't know what causes fibromyalgia. Current thinking centers around a theory called "central sensitization." This theory states that people with fibromyalgia have a lower threshold for pain because of increased sensitivity in the brain to pain signals. Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters). In addition, the brain's pain receptors (neurons) â€" which receive signals from the neurotransmitters â€" seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals. In this way, pressure on a spot on the body that wouldn't hurt someone without fibromyalgia can be very painful to someone who has the condition. But what initiates this process of central sensitization isn't known. It's likely that a number of factors contribute to the development of fibromyalgia.
Other theories as to the cause of fibromyalgia include:
- Sleep disturbances.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood changes
- Abnormalities of the autonomic (sympathetic) nervous system.
- Changes in muscle metabolism.
Psychological stress and hormonal changes also may be possible causes of fibromyalgia.
Self-care is critical in the management of fibromyalgia:
- Reduce stress.
- Get enough sleep.
- Exercise regularly.
- Pace yourself.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Besides dealing with the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia, one may also have to deal with the frustration of having a condition that's often misunderstood. In addition to educating self about fibromyalgia, one may find it helpful to provide the family, friends and co-workers with information. It's also helpful to know that you are not alone. Complementary and alternative therapies for pain and stress management aren't new. Some, such as meditation and yoga, have been practiced for thousands of years. But their use has become more popular in recent years, especially with people who have chronic illnesses, such as fibromyalgia.