Fibromyalgia is recognized as a disorder defined by chronic pain. It has musculoskeletal pain and stiffness, soft issue tenderness, overall fatigue and sleep problems. Any part of the body can be affected, but the most common sites of pain are the neck, back, shoulders, pelvic area and hands. Patients with this disease will exhibit a wide variety of symptoms that come and go over time in varying intensity.
About 3-6% of the American population is affected by fibromyalgia. The highest percentage involves women of all ages and ethnicities. However, it can also affect men and children. It is a debilitating disease and therefore has a huge effect on the patients’ families, jobs and society as a whole.
There are a host of symptoms of FM, but it is initially recognized by tenderness in multiple areas of the body. The pain associated with FM is intense. It moves to any area of the body and will vary in intensity. This pain is described as deep muscle aches, throbbing, twitching, stabbing or shooting pain. There are also descriptions that include numbness, tingling and burning which are more neurological in nature. These painful symptoms are often worse in the morning. Other things that may aggravate these symptoms further are cold or humid weather, poor sleep, physical and mental exhaustion, excessive physical activity or conversely physical inactivity, anxiety or stress.
Many people complain of being tired in today’s hectic world. However, the tiredness and fatigue associated with FM goes much further than just being tired. FM fatigue is a complete exhaustion which prevents day-to-day functioning. It is as if the patient’s energy has been completely drained from the body, leaving them with little reserves for mental or physical functioning.
There are sleep disorders which prevent FM patients from achieving deep, restful sleep on a nightly basis. FM affects the stage 4 deep sleep of affected patients. These people are unable to achieve deep sleep because they constantly have interruptions of awake-like brain activity, which severely inhibits their deep sleep time.
Other FM symptoms can encompass irritable bowel and bladder, headaches including migraines, restless leg syndrome, poor memory and concentration, skin irritations and rashes, dry eyes and mouth, anxiety, depression, ears ringing, dizziness, vision impairments and poor coordination.
There are currently no lab tests which are conclusive in diagnosing fibromyalgia. Instead, patient histories, patient-reported symptoms or an accurate manual tender point examination are what doctors must depend on for diagnosis.
Getting an accurate FM diagnosis can take as long as five years. Many FM symptoms mimic those of other diseases, lab tests come back negative and a lot of doctors are not adequately informed or educated about FM. Another complicating factor in diagnosing this disease is that there may be other diseases present, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, the symptoms of which overlap or match those of FM.
The root cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown. However, research continues to come closer to understanding this mysterious illness. It is agreed by many researchers that FM is a disorder of central processing with neuroendocrine/neurotransmitter dysregulation. The patient will have amplified pain because of abnormal sensory processing in the central nervous system.
The prognosis for these patients is getting more positive all the time. New and improved means of diagnosing and treating FM are getting closer. The symptoms of FM tend to come and go, but the majority of patients do get better over time. Fibromyalgia patients must take an active part in gathering new information, make lifestyle changes and have a positive outlook. In this same condition, Fibromyalgia patient becomes the FM survivor.